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Woman detained at Kotel for wearing tallit
By JEREMY SHARON AND MELANIE LIDMAN
06/21/2012
Authorities disperse protest by group of women who gather at local police station, sing songs in solidarity with fellow worshiper.
 
Police detained a female activist at the Western Wall for over three hours on Thursday because she was wearing a “male-style” tallit. The incident took place after 65 women from the Women of the Wall organization concluded their Rosh Hodesh prayer service.

The women usually pray shaharit, the morning prayer, in the main section for women at the Kotel and then move to Robinson’s Arch in order to read from the Torah.



Women are not allowed to read from the Torah in the main plaza.

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said the woman, Deborah Houben, was asked to remove her tallit as the group made its way from Robinson’s Arch back to the main plaza because she was wearing a traditional blackand- white tallit folded over her shoulders in the manner more typically worn by men. He said that women are only allowed to wear “female-style” tallit, which are multi-colored tallitot that are draped around the neck.

Ben-Ruby cited the 2001 High Court of Justice ruling that requires worshipers to uphold the customs of the holy site.

“They know it’s forbidden to wear a men’s tallit in the women’s section,” said Ben- Ruby, adding that the rules were agreed on in order to protect the “holiness of the site.”

However, the High Court ruling does not include any clarifications about what type of tallit women are allowed to wear. The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, told The Jerusalem Post that all tallitot are forbidden in the Western Wall Plaza, not just women wearing men’s tallit.

He said that police were wrong to detain only Houben for wearing a male-style tallit and instead should have arrested all of the women wearing tallitot.

Houben was fingerprinted and photographed at the police station, and released just over three hours later. She was also banned from going to the Western Wall for seven days, and will be fined NIS 3,000 if she violates the ban.

“I know I’ve been warned before and that [wearing a “man’s” tallit] is not allowed,” Houben said, “but I feel like I’m not doing anything wrong. In fact, I think I’m doing something right.”

“I continue to do this because I think change is necessary here,” she added.

Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, said that 47 of the 66 women who prayed at the service were also wearing prayer shawls, although they were of the more colorful and decorative type.

Hoffman said she was unaware of any agreement related to the acceptable styles of wearing a tallit and added that she had never been approached within any forum to discuss the issue.

“The result of handing over the keys to Judaism’s holiest site to an extremist minority is that police have to waste their time dealing with fashion statements,” Hoffman said.

While Houben was questioned, a group of women began singing in solidarity outside the police station, but were told by police that their activities constituted an unauthorized protest that would be forcibly dispersed unless they stopped.

Following the incident, Rabinowitz denounced the Women of the Wall as “a group of extremists,” conducting “a fanatical political struggle.”

He said that all of the worshipers needed to follow a unified set of guidelines, which he determines, and honor the Orthodox manner of worship.

“If everyone wanted to have their traditions, there would be an explosion here,” he said.

Rabinowitz also slammed the Women of the Wall for provocatively using the Kotel for political gains.

“This is the holiest synagogue in the world; don’t bring the Western Wall into the political conflict,” he said. “The State of Israel doesn’t want to arrest people who come to pray, but it is forbidden [for women] to put on tallitot.”

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said that “the only provocation that occurred on Thursday at the site was from the extremist haredi establishment.”

“The Western Wall is a site of heritage for everyone and must be characterized by tolerance and openness,” the MK said.

According to a 2001 law, it is illegal for women to perform religious practices at the Western Wall that, according to Orthodox Jewish tradition, are done by men – such as reading from a Torah scroll, wearing tefillin or a tallit, or blowing a shofar – because it may offend the religious sensibilities of others.

A similar incident occurred during last month’s Women of the Wall Rosh Hodesh service, when a policeman readjusted the tallit of rabbinical student Sarit Horwitz without her permission after he accused her of wearing it in the male style.

According to the Women of the Wall, three women were briefly questioned by the police after this service as well.

In 2004, an area abutting the Western Wall – adjacent to Robinson’s Arch, but separate from the Western Wall Plaza – was inaugurated as a place of prayer for non-Orthodox Jewish groups to pray as they wish.

However, the Women of the Wall claim that the site is inadequate since there are no chairs, prayer books or Torah scrolls available for use. Additionally, the prayer space is only open during the operating hours of the Jerusalem Archeological Park, where it is located, and therefore is not available in the evenings.
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