Haredim violently protest women’s service at Kotel

48% of Israelis support Women of the Wall prayer rights, Israel Democracy Institute poll finds.

Women of the wall protest (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Women of the wall protest
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
The first ever Women of the Wall prayer service in which members of the group were able to legally don prayer shawls and tefillin at the Western Wall was marred on Friday morning by violent haredi protests.
Close to 400 women descended on the site during the Women of the Wall’s monthly prayer service marking Rosh Hodesh Sivan, joined by thousands of haredi schoolgirls, as well as boys and men, who protested against the group’s religious practices.
United Torah Judaism MKs coordinated the arrival at the site of large numbers of ultra- Orthodox high school youth earlier in the week when they met with school principles to arrange the demonstration, approved by the leading rabbi of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox world, Aharon Leib Shteinman.
The protesters threw assorted items at the women, including water bottles, rocks, plastic bags filled with garbage and chairs, and fought with the heavy police presence which was separating the protesters from the prayer group.
At times the protests became fraught with shoving matches between the ranks of protesters and police, accompanied by shouting and screaming.
Three haredi men were arrested and two police officers who suffered light injuries during the unrest were treated at the scene.
The police also had to protect participants of the Women of the Wall group as they left the Western Wall Plaza after their service was completed. Haredi protesters threw stones at their buses outside the Dung Gate as they drove away.
WoW’s Friday prayer service marked the first time in the group’s 24-year history that female worshipers were legally allowed to wear tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin, following the Jerusalem District Court ruling two weeks ago that reinterpreted existing laws.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said that the events of Friday morning “reinforced the urgent need for a sustainable solution which will allow any Jew, group of Jews or Jewish community to pray at the Western Wall according to their own custom.” He is drawing up plans to create an egalitarian prayer area as a solution to the long-running conflict.
In a statement following the prayer service, the Women of the Wall lauded its newfound freedom.
“Women of the Wall is proud to have gotten to this historic point, in which women are praying freely, defended by the police. Likewise, the group is greatly saddened by the use of violence by haredi men. Women of the Wall calls on [the] ultra- Orthodox leadership to denounce all forms of violence against women.”
On Saturday night, the Israel Democracy Institute think tank issued the results of a poll conducted in April regarding public support for the WoW and its goals.
Of the 600 people sampled, 48 percent expressed support for the group to be able to pray according to their own customs, with 38% opposed.
Broken down into self-identified religious views, the survey found that 63.5% of secular people supported the group, as did 53% of people identifying themselves as “traditional, but not religious.”
There was zero haredi support for WoW’s prayer rights, while 27.5% of people defining themselves as “religious” were in favor.
Broken down by gender, 51% of men sampled expressed support for the group, and 46% of women were also in favor of allowing WoW to pray at the Western Wall in its customary way.
Following the ugly melee on Friday morning, the New Yorkbased Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, strongly condemned the episode.
“We are shocked and horrified to see the desecration of a Jewish holy site by Jewish religious extremists,” the 112-year-old rabbinical organization said Friday in a statement issued by its President Rabbi Gerald Skolnik and Executive Vice President Rabbi Julie Schonfeld.
“We call for a full investigation by the Israeli government into the role of government-salaried religious officials who called for thousands of people – especially youth – to come to the Western Wall plaza, provoking hooliganism, targeting fellow Jews and putting young boys and girls in a dangerous situation.”
Skolnik and Schonfeld went on to extend their gratitude to the Jerusalem Police for upholding the law allowing the women to pray in accordance with their principles, and expressed hope that religious freedom will one day be tolerated by their ultra- Orthodox counterparts.
“As we watch our sisters and brothers in Israel undertake a long-awaited challenge to an entrenched system of political abuses, we look forward to the day when all Jews in Israel enjoy the rights to religious freedom in matters not only of worship, but birth, death, marriage and divorce,” read the statement.
“Sadly, it will take some time to unravel the net of religious coercion that has entrapped Israeli democracy. The courage and calm of Jerusalem Police [Friday] morning is a positive sign of the civic and public discipline that will need to be exercised as justice and order is restored to the people of Israel.”
The organization also praised Sharansky for his efforts to create an egalitarian prayer section at the Wall, consistent with the Supreme Court’s directives to the government.