Women of the Wall to hold Kotel services

Restraining order against group’s chairwoman still in effect.

women of the wall 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
women of the wall 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Despite the raucous and sometimes violent uproar that has at times accompanied their previous gatherings inside the women’s section at the Western Wall, Women of the Wall, a group that promotes, “the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah at the Western Wall,” will hold their monthly Rosh Hodesh service at the holy site on Wednesday morning.
“On Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 7:00 a.m., Women of the Wall will return to the Western Wall (Kotel), with over one hundred women in attendance, for their regular monthly Rosh Hodesh services, to celebrate the beginning of the Jewish month of Elul 5770,” a statement released by the group on Tuesday read.
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Wednesday’s services will be held with only the partial participation of chairperson Anat Hoffman, who was arrested by Jerusalem police during the group’s Rosh Hodesh Av service a month ago, as she carried a Torah scroll away from the Western Wall and towards Robinson’s Arch.
After her arrest, police issued a restraining order against Hoffman, preventing her from approaching the Western Wall for 30 days.
According to Women of the Wall, “for the past few months, the police have similarly forbidden women from carrying the Torah inside the area of the Western Wall, unofficially and not in accordance with the Supreme Court.”
Responding to a past decision by the Supreme Court – which in 2003 reversed its own previous ruling and stated that the group was not allowed to wear prayer shawls or tefillin or read from the Torah at the Western Wall as it posed a threat to “public safety and order”– Hoffman said, “aside from the pain and regret we feel over the latest Supreme Court decision, we have no intention of giving up on such an important and accepted Jewish symbol as the Torah.”
The Supreme Court did, however, allow the Women of the Wall to hold prayer services and read from the Torah at the nearby Robinson’s Arch, which Hoffman alluded to in her remarks.
“If we have been sentenced to only read the Torah at Robinson’s Arch, we will obey, but we will not give up on having the Torah present during our prayer at the Kotel,” she said.
According to the concluding paragraph of Women of the Wall’s Tuesday press release, “since the police have exiled the Torah from the Kotel plaza, it will stay in the arms of Hoffman, who will wait for the group at the entrance of the Western Wall Plaza from 7:00-8:00 a.m.”
“Hoffman will join the march to Robinson’s Arch, to continue the celebration and prayer in the small segment of the Old City of Jerusalem where women are allowed to pray freely, safely far enough away from the Western Wall, as designated by the courts,” the release concluded.
Jerusalem Police on Tuesday evening declined to comment on the group’s plans, nor would a police spokesman elaborate on any plans for a bolstered police presence at the Western Wall.
Last month, the group launched a global campaign to support their right to pray with Torah scrolls at the Western Wall.
The Jerusalem-based group wants 10,000 Jewish women around the world to send photos of themselves holding Torah scrolls to key Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
The campaign is to show that Jewish women are free to hold Torah scrolls everywhere except at the Wall, Judaism’s most holy site.
The photos are being sent with a message that reads, in part: "Women of the Wall are not alone. Our daughters and our rabbis, our mothers and our grandmothers, our cantors and our teachers hold the Torah, read from the Torah, and study the Torah every day... only in Jerusalem do women pray with fear and only in Jerusalem are women treated as criminals for practicing Judaism.”
The campaign began after Tisha Be’av on July 19 and extends through Simhat Torah, which in the Diaspora falls on October 1.
In addition to the past arrests of group members, some previous Women of the Wall’s prayer services at the Kotel have elicited violent responses from others praying at the site, who in the past have hurled epithets, chairs and even punches at Women of the Wall members during their gatherings.
JTA contributed to this report.