Members of the “Women of the Wall” wear Jewish prayer shawls which the Orthodox Jewish community traditionally reserves for men, during Passover near the Western Wall last April.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Women of the Wall prayer group faced harassment during their prayer service on Monday morning at the Western Wall and concerted efforts to disrupt and disturb them.
Haredi men jostled and pushed the women as they entered and exited the cordon designated by the police for them in the Women’s section, while other protesters blew whistles next to the service for its entire duration. An amplified sound system was used for prayers in the men’s section, making group prayer in the women’s section difficult.
There was also a significant presence of national-religious high-school girls who had been brought to the Western Wall as a form of protest by hard-line national-religious organizations against Women of the Wall.
The police had set up a cordoned- off area in the women’s section, specifically for the Women of the Wall group, but it did not provide access to the Western Wall itself.
The entrance to the area was extremely narrow and the protesting men created a melee.
The women struggled to get into the fenced-off area, and in all the chaos one woman was kicked, while another fell to the ground due to the jostling and shoving, according to Women of the Wall.
Similar scenes occurred when they exited the area as well.
During the prayer service, Noa Brenner from Tel Aviv read from the Torah as part of her bat mitzva, despite the clamor and unfavorable circumstances around her.
“Noa Brenner came to the Western Wall to have her bat mitzva and participate in the services for the new month, and there were thousands of people, men and women, jeering and shouting and screaming and spitting and throwing, in every possible way trying to disturb the prayer and the festivities,” Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman said.
“My only comment to Noa today is that I am convinced that when she’s a grandmother, her grandchildren will not believe that her bat mitzva was the chaos we saw today, because, by then, [having a] bat mitzva [at the Western Wall] will be a normal thing,” she said. “It’s just a shame that Israel, instead of being a leader in the Jewish world by making this something normal, is being dragged by its hair by the Women of the Wall, the Reform and Conservative movements and other partners to a place where women are people, and if the wall is for people then women have the right to pray out loud, read Torah, put on tefillin and have a bat mitzva.”
The liberal national-religious lobbying group Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah criticized those responsible for bringing the high-school students to protest. This contravened Education Ministry regulations, and such protests are not the way to conduct societal debate, the group said.
“The Western Wall is a holy and sensitive site that is currently the subject of a lengthy and important debate, within the national-religious community and without, regarding religious practice there,” the group said following the prayer service. “There are many varied opinions within the national-religious community on this issue, and sending school girls to a demonstration like the one this morning is an educational and moral failure by parents and the [educational] institutions.”