For the first time in three months and without a police cordon since April, the Women of the Wall prayer rights group held its monthly Rosh Hodesh service on Friday inside the women’s section of the Western Wall Plaza.
Although opposition to the group was much reduced from recent months, the female worshipers were still subjected to verbal abuse and spitting by other women praying alongside them, as well as several haredi men and youths when their service concluded.
One haredi youth was arrested for spitting and throwing various items at members of the group. No injuries were reported.
Women of the Wall complained that loud speakers set up by Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz, which broadcast the morning prayers on the men’s side of the Kotel, were a deliberate attempt to drown out the women.
The group said they stopped their service while prayers were being recited for ill Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
WoW said almost 200 women turned up to pray, some in prayer shawls and tefillin, which a decision by the Jerusalem District Court in April has made legal.
Before, the law as interpreted by the Justice Ministry and the police prohibited prayer services not conducted in accordance with traditional Orthodox practice.
In the months since the April ruling, WoW services at the Western Wall have faced fierce opposition, requiring a police presence.
On two occasions, the haredi United Torah Judaism party arranged for thousands of haredi school girls to be bussed to the holy site and fill the women’s section, forcing WoW to pray further away from the Wall.
Yet, the party decided not to repeat this strategy on Friday.
Rabinowitz issued a letter on Thursday saying he had called on the ultra- Orthodox leadership not to organize protests at the site at Friday’s prayer service, although he described WoW’s actions as a “provocation.”
WoW participants claimed that Rabinowitz’s placement of the speakers and its deafening volume was a provocative ploy in its own right to silence the worshipers.
This was also the first month that WoW have held their service since a large platform was constructed south of the main plaza for non-Orthodox prayer. However, WoW have refused to pray at the new site, saying that it is an attempt to bypass the April court ruling and to put the group out of sight.
A committee chaired by cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit is expected to present its recommendations for a permanent solution to the issue in the coming days.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
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