In the latest of several similar incidents, police detained four women from the
Women of the Wall activist organization at the Western Wall plaza Sunday morning
for wearing prayer shawls.
The women were questioned for more than two
hours and then brought to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, where they were
served with a restraining order forbidding them from entering the Western Wall
plaza for 50 days.
Israeli law, upheld by the Supreme Court, stipulates
that it is forbidden to conduct a religious ceremony “contrary to accepted
practice” at a holy site, or one that may “hurt the feelings of other
This law is interpreted to include women performing
religious practices at the Western Wall traditionally done by men in Orthodox
Jewish practice, such as reading from a Torah scroll, wearing tefillin or a
tallit, or blowing a shofar.
Approximately 50 women from the organization
assembled in the women’s section of the plaza Sunday morning for the prayer
service for the new month, many of whom wore prayer shawls, or tallitot,
traditionally worn by men.
The four women who were detained were wearing
black and white or plain white tallitot, whereas the rest of the group were
wearing more colorful prayer shawls.
The police generally tolerate the
wearing of the decorative tallitot by women, and only take exception to women
wearing the black and white, blue and white or completely white shawls, which
they view as being the preserve of male worshipers.
Lorraine Skupsky, 62,
was one of the women detained and banned from the Western Wall plaza.
is disgraceful and reprehensible, and it was abhorrent that women are denied
equality in front of the Western Wall,” said Skupsky, who immigrated to Israel
last December. “It is totally disrespectful and denigrating to women to be
treated in this unequal manner in the Jewish state,” she added.
police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police requested several times that the
four women who were wearing “men’s” tallitot remove them.
refused, the four were detained.
In previous instances, women received
restraining orders of a week or 10 days plus a fine if they broke the
Ben-Ruby said the severity of the restraining order
shows that the courts see the issue “in the same level of severity” as the
“It is not a law, it is a decision from 2003, the decision of the
High Court of Justice is that the women must behave according to the customs of
the site,” said Ben-Ruby. “The customs say men with tallit, women without
tallit. It is like a women putting on tefillin,” he said.
explained that the police will not detain women who are not wearing a
multicolored “women’s” tallit, draped around the neck. They will only detain
women who wear their tallit “like a man,” referring to the more traditional
black and white or blue and white prayer shawls worn folded around the
In a similar incident in June, a woman praying with the Women
of the Wall was detained and banned from the site for seven days for wearing a
black and white tallit, and another three women were briefly held, also for
wearing “male-style” prayer shawls.
Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women
of the Wall, denied that the frequent incidents are designed to provoke media
attention, despite being aware of the legal issues, saying instead that the law
“When Rosa Parks rode on the front of the bus it was illegal,”
Hoffman pointed out, referring to the famous civil rights activist in the US who
protested the practice of segregation in the American south. “But in fact it
does matter where you sit. And similarly, no-one should be telling women to take
off their tallit.
“This is a struggle to liberate the Western Wall from
the dictates of a small group of fanatic extremists which has taken over the
site,” Hoffman said, adding that efforts until now to change the law through
legislation in the Knesset have failed.
In response to the incident,
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz issued a statement expressing “shock and
deep sorrow for the behavior of a group of women at the Western Wall this
morning,” and called on “the authorities to prevent this repetitive and
“Instead of uniting with the holiness of the
place, we are forced to be witnesses every month to an extremist political
struggle of an extremist and provocative group, which wants to harm the holiness
of the site and the feelings of the worshipers.
“The Western Wall is a
place of unity for the Jewish people and not a place for polarization, and the
sharpening of differences.”