Police detain women at Kotel over prayer shawls

"Women of the Wall" arrive at the Kotel for prayer group, say officers told them to remove prayer shawls, then detained them.

Women of the Wall at the Western Wall 370 (photo credit: Courtesy of Women of the Wall)
Women of the Wall at the Western Wall 370
(photo credit: Courtesy of Women of the Wall)
Three members of the Women of the Wall organization were briefly detained by police Tuesday morning, the group said, for wearing tallitot (prayer shawls) at the Western Wall plaza.
Jerusalem deputy police spokeswoman Shlomit Bajshi, however, denied there were any altercations at the Western Wall on Tuesday morning and said no women were taken in for questioning or arrested.
Approximately 40 women from the group, which campaigns for equal rights at the Western Wall plaza, went to pray at the site Tuesday morning, the first day of the new month. Many of them donned prayer shawls for the service.
According to a 2001 law, it is illegal for women to perform religious practices traditionally done by men in Orthodox Jewish practice at the Western Wall, such as reading from a Torah scroll, wearing tefillin or a tallit, or blowing a shofar.
Sarit Horwitz, 26, one of the women stopped by the police, said that a policewoman approached her during the group’s prayer service and told her to adjust her tallit because she was wearing it as a man does. A male officer then adjusted it without her permission.
Police briefly detained three women including Horwitz as they were exiting the plaza. Police took the women’s personal identification and contact details – although the officers did not provide a specific reason for the demand.
The women were told they would be contacted to present themselves to police for further investigation and questioning because they had “offended the law.”
“It’s frightening to me that a woman wearing a tallit is a criminal threat to the State of Israel,” Horwitz told The Jerusalem Post. “I’m leaving the country in a week-and-a-half and I hope when I come back, Israel will be a more religiously tolerant and understanding place.”
Horwitz is a rabbinical student at Conservative Judaism’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York and has been studying in Israel at the Schechter Institute, a pluralistic Jewish studies seminary, as part of her rabbinical course.
In 2004, an area abutting the Western Wall – adjacent to Robinson’s Arch, but separate from the Western Wall plaza – was inaugurated as a place of prayer for non-Orthodox Jewish groups to pray as they wish.
However, Women of the Wall prayer group chairwoman Anat Hoffman said the site is inadequate since there are no chairs, prayer books or Torah scrolls available for use. Additionally, the prayer space is only open during operating hours of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park where it is located, and therefore is not available in the evenings.