Police on Monday morning arrested 10 women for wearing tallitot while praying at the Western Wall, including Women of the Wall founder Anat Hoffman.



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.

Police 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 Western Wall.

“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 control.

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 a judge.

They were released when police declined.

Hoffman said 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 tallitot.

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.” •

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