Sharansky: Kotel arrests flag need to resolve issue

Five women detained for wearing prayer shawls; Jewish Agency chair: Incident flags urgent need for egalitarian section.

Law enforcement officials escort Women of the Wall director Lesley Sachs at the Western Wall in Jerusalem (file photo) (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Law enforcement officials escort Women of the Wall director Lesley Sachs at the Western Wall in Jerusalem (file photo)
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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 site.

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.She was 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” tallitot.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 week.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.WoW has 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 practice.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,” Zandberg said.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.MK 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.“The Knesset is the appropriate place for discussing disputes, not the Western Wall...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.Police released 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.In his 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 “provocation.”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.”