Police on Monday morning arrested 10 women for wearing tallitot while praying at
the Western Wall, including Women of the Wall founder Anat
During an emotional monthly service featuring veterans from the
1967 Six Day War who fought in and around the Old City, police detained the
women, including the sister of American comedian Sarah Silverman.
detained Israeli- American Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman and her daughter,
Hallel, 17, at the Western Wall Plaza as they walked through the security gate
toward Robinson’s Arch.
Other women arrested included Hoffman, Women of
the Wall executive director Lesley Sachs and eightmonth- pregnant rabbinical
student Lior Nevo.
Nevo was in the middle of giving a television
interview celebrating the fact that it was the first time in 22 months that no
one had been arrested – when police detained her with the microphone still
attached to her clothes.
“It’s unacceptable that the police are stopping
women from wearing tallitot; it’s like Iran. I can’t believe they are stopping
people from praying in one certain way or another,” said Ilon Bartov, a
paratrooper who fought in the Old City and Ammunition Hill in 1967, as he
observed the monthly prayer service.
“I think it’s important that every
person, regardless of whether they are male or female, should be able to pray
according to their religion, their worldview, their beliefs and their own way,”
said Itzhak Ifat, now a physician, who is best known as the young, blond
paratrooper in the iconic 1967 photo by David Rubinger of soldiers at the
“We can’t discriminate and force people to pray according
to what the ultra-Orthodox want,” Ifat said.
About 150 women and a few
dozen supportive men attended the monthly service, which Women of the Wall has
held for the past 24 years at the beginning of each Hebrew month. The group
joined forces with the paratrooper veterans in order to publicize their message
that the Western Wall still needs to be “liberated” from ultra-Orthodox
For the second time in a row, police confiscated tallitot from
the women as they passed through the security checkpoint at the entrance to the
Wall. But some of the men smuggled in tallitot for the women and passed them over the gender barrier
like contraband goods.
After the 10 women were detained, the Women of the
Wall moved their Torah reading to outside the police station in protest, as they
have done in months past.
“I was sitting there when the police officer
was asking questions, and she was saying, ‘Do you know this offends people?’”
recalled Silverman. “I thought, where am I? In the former Soviet Union? I’m in
the Jewish state and she’s harassing me for having prayed shaharit [morning
prayers] on Rosh Hodesh? It was surreal.
Two Conservative rabbis were
with us and they said, ‘We just came from Kiev, where we prayed freely.’” Sarah
Silverman praised her sister and niece’s “balls-out civil disobedience” in a
tweet to four million followers.
Six of the women, including two
Americans and a Canadian, signed a conditional release barring them from the
Western Wall for 15 days. The four others refused to sign and insisted on seeing
They were released when police declined.
police have detained women 43 times, adding that not a single detention has led
to an indictment.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben- Ruby confirmed
that the women were detained for wearing tallitot, especially what police refer
to as “male-style” prayer shawls.
Police allow women to wear the colorful
tallitot around their shoulders, which police refer to as “female tallitot” – as
opposed to the larger “male tallitot,” which are blue and white or black and
white, and worn folded across the shoulders.
“The moment they put on the
other [male] tallit, it’s problematic,” Ben-Ruby said.
The Supreme Court
ruled in 2003 that worshipers must “uphold the customs” of the holy site, though
there is nothing written in the court decision about specific types of
According to Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch, a
council led by the chief rabbi of Israel determined the customs of the site in
1967 when the Western Wall came under Israeli sovereignty.
“[The Women of
the Wall] are trying to hurt and offend other people’s sensitivities,”
Rabinovitch told The Jerusalem Post a number of weeks ago.
“It has become
a protest. It got totally out of the proportion of prayer. And I do not allow
protests at the Western Wall.”
Hoffman vowed that the large number of
detentions would not deter the group,which planned to return to the Western Wall
for Purim at the end of February.
“We’re going to read the megila dressed
as yeshiva bochers [students],” she said.
“And Lesley Sachs is dressing
up as a policeman.” •