Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky said the detainment of five women
at the Western Wall on Thursday morning was proof of the immediate need to find
a way for allowing Jews from all streams to pray as they please at the
The women were detained at the monthly prayer service of the Women
of the Wall activist group, which has been conducting a concerted campaign to
change the current status quo at the Western Wall.
Between 200 to 300
women participated in Thursday’s prayer service.
Sharansky said that
Thursday’s events “are one more reminder of the urgent need to reach a permanent
solution and make the Western Wall once again a symbol of unity among the Jewish
people, and not one of discord and strife.”
Among those arrested was the
director of the Women of the Wall group, Lesley Sachs.
accompanied to the police station by Meretz MKs Tamar Zandberg and Michal
Roisin, who were present at the prayer service.
The continued detainment
of women during Women of the Wall’s monthly service at the Western Wall has
become something of a religious crisis over the past 18 months, with service
participants regularly detained at the site for wearing the large,
black-and-white prayer shawls classified by police as “male-style”
The Jewish Agency chairman was tasked by Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu in December last year to find a compromise deal to end the
dispute over the holy site.
In a letter to the board of governors of the
Jewish Agency and obtained by The Jerusalem Post, Sharansky stated that his plan
would see the construction of a plaza at the southern end of the Western Wall
“equal in size and height to the northern prayer area,” which would allow all
worshipers to touch the wall and would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a
Sharansky wrote that according to his plan, the entire Western Wall
complex would have a single entrance, enabling visitors to choose which prayer
area to go to.
The entire area running along the Western Wall would then
comprise three equal parts – male, female, and egalitarian.
cautiously welcomed the proposals, although it says it will withhold judgment
until the final details are published.
Israeli law forbids performing
religious ceremonies “not according to local custom” or which “may hurt the
feelings of the worshipers” at holy sites, including the Western Wall, which the
police interpret as meaning anything deviating from Orthodox
However, Jerusalem Police District head Asst.-Ch. Yosi Perienti
said on Tuesday that the law would be enforced until a change in the legal
status of the site is made.
Speaking to the Post, MK Zandberg was
nevertheless critical of the ongoing detainment by the police of women
participating in WoW’s service.
“It’s a joke that a day after Sharansky’s
plan was published around the world, women are being arrested at the Kotel,”
WoW has demanded, in addition to a long-term solution,
that the current prohibitions on women seeking to pray according to their own
customs in the current women’s section must be lifted immediately.
Roisin said that “the fact that a haredi rabbi decides what the customs of the
site are must be changed” in order to stop arrests.
“This is a political
and ideological fight. I am working to change the regulations so women can pray
as they wish at the Kotel,” Roisin stated.
However, Yesh Atid MK Aliza
Lavie, who has worked closely with Sharansky, Rabbi of the Wall Shmuel
Rabinowitz and others to form the proposed plan, implicitly criticized her
parliamentary colleagues and WoW for the ongoing tensions.
is the appropriate place for discussing disputes, not the Western
Brawling leads us nowhere,” Lavie said in a statement to the
press. She added that she would be calling for a special session to address the
issue in the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women.
the detained women later on Thursday without condition, something that WoW
proclaimed to be a precedent.
According to the group, Judge Sharon Larry
Bavly of the Jerusalem District Court stated that there was no cause for
arresting the women, and said that Women of the Wall are not disturbing the
public order with their prayers.
The judge said that the disturbance was
created by those publicly opposing the women’s prayer, and ordered the women to
be released immediately.
Police also arrested a haredi man during the
course of the morning’s events for disturbing the public order.
statement on Thursday, Sharansky said that consultations in recent days had
shown “a lot of goodwill to defuse tensions and to find a solution which ensures
that every Jew in the world can pray in the manner that they are accustomed to
at Judaism’s most important national and religious site, while respecting the
traditions of all.”
He expressed hope that this would be translated into
practical steps in the coming weeks.
Western Wall and Holy Sites Rabbi
Shmuel Rabinowitz expressed regret over what he called the women’s
The rabbi said the women’s actions breached the court’s
decision and disturbed others praying at the Kotel.
He added that the
fact that they were continuing to act in this way, despite the compromise
proposed by Sharansky, was “clear evidence that their purpose it to stir
controversy and hurt other people’s feelings, while increasing polarization
among the people and turning the Kotel into a battlefield of fanaticism.”