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
Ben-Ruby cited the 2001 High Court of Justice ruling that
requires worshipers to uphold the customs of the holy site.
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
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
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
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.”
continue to do this because I think change is necessary here,” she
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
“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.
also slammed the Women of the Wall for provocatively using the Kotel for
“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
“The Western Wall is a site of heritage for everyone and
must be characterized by tolerance and openness,” the MK said.
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.
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
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.