Members of "Women of the Wall" pray with a Torah scroll during a monthly prayer near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City July 24, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Women of the Wall prayer rights activists were once again subjected to body searches at the entrance to the Western Wall Plaza on Wednesday, despite an order by the High Court of Justice that such searches are not permissible.
Approximately 100 women from the group attended the organization’s prayer service for the new month of Elul, with significant numbers facing lengthy delays of up to 40 minutes at the security gates due to intrusive searches.
At least four women were taken aside, questioned and asked to lift their clothing before entering the complex.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation said that during a search of one woman, a female security guard found parchment sheets of a Torah scroll hidden under her clothes. She had likely hoped to use it during the Women of the Wall service.
The Jerusalem Post has not been able to verify this claim, while Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman said flatly that “it didn’t happen.”
Women are banned from reading a Torah scroll at the Western Wall by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, administrator of the site and chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Nevertheless, he Women of the Wall activists have smuggled Torah scrolls into the site on previous occasions.
Because of these attempts to smuggle Torah scrolls, security personnel and Western Wall Heritage Foundation orderlies have been increasingly stringent in their searches of women entering the site during new moons, when Women of the Wall hold its monthly services, to prevent Torah scrolls from being brought into the women’s section.
In January, the High Court specifically instructed Rabinowitz and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to cease conducting body searches on women entering the complex, which go beyond usual security requirements.
During Wednesday’s prayer service, female opponents of the Women of the Wall blew whistles, yelled and cursed at the worshipers and even pushed and spat at them, a spokeswoman for the organization said.
During a TV interview with i24, Susan Silverman, a Reform rabbi, Woman of the Wall activist and sister of US comedian Sarah Silverman, was accosted by a protester who shrieked in her face.
Silverman aggressively wrapped her arms around the protester, although swiftly removed them, following which several other protesters harassed her, one of whom returned the favor and just as aggressively wrapped her own arms around Silverman shouting “I love you.” Later, Silverman displayed a swollen, red arm where she had been “hugged.”
Women of the Wall noted that Western Wall Heritage Foundation orderlies did not prevent the disruptions despite requests from worshipers in the women’s section.
Despite the disturbances, the group completed its service and ended by blowing shofars as is traditional during the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
“We sounded the shofar today in order to knock down the walls of apathy, exclusion, silencing and discrimination...
We look to the Supreme Court that has proven itself as the ‘responsible adult’ in the country, to lead to a just solution to our basic demand for equal rights for women at the Wall,” said Hoffman.
Regarding the allegations that a women tried to smuggle Torah parchments under her clothes, Hoffman said, “That rabbi should stop thinking about what’s under our clothes, and instead about what’s in our heads and hearts, which is that we are people and have the same rights as men, and about how he denies us the right to use both public scrolls or even let us bring our own.”
Rabinowitz said he was outraged to see “physical fights” at the Western Wall prayer area, and was also highly critical of the Women of the Wall for the alleged incident of the Torah scroll parchments and of those disturbing the Women of the Wall service, including some of the protesters who allegedly smuggled whistles under their underwear.
“Today, at the New Month of Elul, all redlines were crossed – those who smuggled holy Torah scrolls bound to their bodies, those who hide whistles in their private places, and for what? For the ‘sanctity’ of a civil war at the Western Wall?” said the rabbi.
He also rejected the criticism from Women of the Wall regarding the failure of the orderlies to prevent the protesters from disturbing its service, saying they were not responsible for dispersing demonstrators.