Backlash against Women of the Wall prayer sparks Western Wall tensions

World Zionist Organization holds Independence Day prayer service at the same time as Women of the Wall event

 Women of the Wall prayer event for Rosh Hodesh Iyar, May 2, 2022 (photo credit: COURTESY WOMEN OF THE WALL)
Women of the Wall prayer event for Rosh Hodesh Iyar, May 2, 2022

Around 150 members of the Women of the Wall movement who carried out a morning prayer service at the Western Wall on Monday morning to mark Rosh Hodesh Iyar and the upcoming Israeli Independence Day were met with resistance from both Israel Police and a large group of Orthodox women.

"A small group of Women of the Wall arrived again for a demonstration event at the Western Wall plaza at a time when hundreds of female Orthodox worshipers came to the Kotel for Rosh Chodesh prayers," the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in a statement.

“According to the instructions of the Justice Ministry, a designated compound was set up for the benefit of this group, in order to create a separation between them and the other worshipers and to prevent unnecessary friction. But despite repeated requests, they chose not to enter the compound and [to instead] violate public order," the statement said.

Foundation head Eden Shimon also stated that he had addressed Women of the Wall (WoW) leader Yochi Rapaport personally, asking her to move the prayers to the designated area "in order to prevent the Western Wall from turning into a demonstration site."

But "they chose to continue their actions and turn the site into a battlefield," he said – "again."

In response, WoW issued a statement saying that "about 150 Women of the Wall prayed at the Kotel and read from the Torah scroll. At the same time, a group of young women was rioting, kicking, pushing, spitting, cursing and using whistles which are forbidden according to the Western Wall procedures.

"The criminal offenses at the site were not enforced by the police and the Western Wall ushers. On the eve of Independence Day, we came to pray and to remind everyone: There is no independence without freedom of religion and equality for women at the Western Wall."

 WZO Independence Day prayer event, May 2, 2022 (credit: LIBA CENTER) WZO Independence Day prayer event, May 2, 2022 (credit: LIBA CENTER)

Also adding to the tensions at the Kotel was an ongoing internal disagreement in the World Zionist Organization. Buses carrying hundreds of young Orthodox women arrived at the Western Wall on Monday morning, for an event said to have been organized by two haredi WZO departments - World Shas and Eretz Hakodesh (the Holy Land) - to mark Independence Day, taking place this Thursday. 

However, it also supposedly serves the purpose of acting as a counter-event to a prayer service that occurred on Sunday evening, which was organized by a third WZO department head, Dr. Yizhar Hess, former director of the Israeli Conservative movement.

The event organized by Hess garnered support from major Jewish organizations across the diaspora and featured the reading of "Megillat Ha'atzmaut," Israel's Declaration of Independence scroll. The counter-event was organized as the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) departments of the WZO felt that such an event "desecrated the sanctity of the wall."