Female MKs enter Western Wall after entry denied

Lawmakers join Women of the Wall struggle; Labor MK Shaffir to introduce legislation to address women's prayer at site.

March 12, 2013 12:05
3 minute read.
Labor MK Stav Shafir (middle)  and Meretz  MK Tamar Zandberg (far right) at Western Wall.

zandberg and Shafir Western Wall370 . (photo credit: courtesy)


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Three female MKs joined the Women of the Wall on Tuesday for a quiet monthly service, and for the first time in 22 months, police did not detain any women for “violating the customs of the site.”

“The Women of the Wall asked me to come and pray, and I believe in their struggle,” said MK Stav Shaffir (Labor), who was joined by Meretz MKs Michal Roisen and Tamar Zandberg.

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“Even though I’m secular and don’t usually wear a tallit [prayer shawl], I came because religion in Jerusalem is based on one type and doesn’t respect the different streams of Judaism and the different ways of praying,” Shaffir told The Jerusalem Post.

“These women choose to pray how they want to, and we need to promote this freedom for all denominations of Judaism to practice the religion according to their beliefs, especially here at this holy place.”

She said that she would consider introducing legislative measures in the Knesset to protect women’s rights at the Western Wall, but that the Knesset also needed to step back from intervening in religious affairs.

She and the other MKs were allowed to bring in their prayer shawls because of their diplomatic immunity. However, as in past months, police prohibited the other women from bringing prayer shawls. Some women circumvented this by hiding them in plastic bags or underneath their coats, according to Michal Gavrieli, who was arrested last month with nine other women for wearing a “female” tallit, according to police.

Ahead of the monthly service, extremist haredi factions posted pashkevilim, or public notices, calling on men to come to the Western Wall at the same time to “protest against the desecration of the holy.”

The large police presence kept men away from the barrier between the men’s and women’s prayer sections, though about a dozen women attempted to interrupt the service by yelling obscenities at the Women of the Wall.

“What you’re doing hurts God! Let us observe our traditions!” yelled one woman.

Another screamed over and over, “You are an embarrassment and you smell! When I get to heaven, God will ask me what I did to stop this desecration!” The Women of the Wall responded by praying more loudly and dancing in circles around the screaming women.

Western Wall and Holy Sites Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz has repeatedly condemned the Women of the Wall for creating provocations and bringing inappropriate protests to the holiest spot in Judaism. On Tuesday, he pleaded with the group to “keep the disputes outside the plaza, and leave the people of Israel one place where there are no clashes, demonstrations, or hatred.”

A 2003 Supreme Court decision forbids performing religious ceremonies “not according to local custom” or that “may hurt the feelings of the worshipers” at the site, and police interpret this as meaning anything deviating from Orthodox practice.

Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman credited US President Obama’s upcoming visit and the presence of the MKs with the lack of arrests on Tuesday morning.

“The police were acting like they do every month, saying to us, ‘Sorry for disturbing your prayer, but you’re violating the law of the holy places.’ Usually that’s their war cry to let us know they will arrest us,” she said. Also on Tuesday, Jews around the world were set to hold a dozen solidarity events with the Women of the Wall, including services in New York and Washington.

“Our group has reached a nuisance level that is considerable, especially abroad,” Hoffman said. She added that arresting women for attempting to pray just days before Obama visited would be an embarrassment to the country.

Last month she was one of 10 people arrested for wearing “female” prayer shawls at the Wall.

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