Small haredi protest, no Torah allowed at Women of the Wall service

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Hundreds of protesting haredi Orthodox youth did not prevent or significantly disturb the Women of the Wall’s monthly service at the Western Wall.

The women were not, however, able to read from a Torah scroll during the service as planned.

Sunday’s service, which according to Women of the Wall attracted 300 women, was conducted under heavy police protection. The women prayed in a corner of the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza enclosed by a barricade and surrounded by police.

A barricade and police line also divided the male haredi protesters from the women and their supporters.

Women of the Wall gathers at the beginning of the Jewish month for a women’s Rosh Chodesh service at the Western Wall. Members have been arrested for wearing prayer shawls because of a law forbidding any practice that falls outside of the wall’s “local custom.”

In April, a judge determined that the group’s activities did not contravene the law. Since then, none of the women have been arrested.

The group’s service last month – the first since the court ruling – attracted thousands of protesting haredi girls who packed the plaza. A large group of haredi men also protested last month, some throwing coffee, water, rocks and a chair at the women.

This month, only a few hundred haredi protesters showed up at the service. Leading haredi rabbis had called on thousands of men to protest Women of the Wall peacefully, but much of the plaza was empty Sunday morning.

Behind a heavy barricade, haredi men chanted and held signs – and a few threw eggs – but the women’s prayer often drowned out their protests.

While the women were able to complete their service unhindered, they were not allowed to read from a Torah scroll. The group had not brought a scroll to the wall for years, but planned to resume the practice following the court ruling.

On Thursday, however, police informed them that a regulation forbade bringing a scroll to the women’s section.

The group plans to challenge the regulation in court.

“It was a beautiful prayer,” said Women of the Wall spokesperson Shira Pruce. She added, though, “We were not happy to be enclosed in fences by police. It was very painful.”

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