By Jeremy Sharon
Chareidi protesters prevented the Women of the Wall “prayer rights” activist group from holding its monthly prayer service at the Western Wall on Wednesday. The approximately 250 WoW activists were forced to congregate in a different area of the Western Wall plaza because the women’s section of the Wall was too packed, the police said.
Around 100–200 shouting and whistle-blowing chareidi men and women were protesting close to the WoW prayer area, but police had made no arrests. The Jerusalem police had said they would accompany the group members from the complex’s entrance to the Western Wall Plaza so as to prevent anyone from interfering with their prayers.
Last month, thousands of chareidi schoolgirls filled the women’s section entirely, preventing WoW from holding its service there. The group had to conduct it instead at the entrance to the Western Wall Plaza complex, away from the Wall. The group expressed intense displeasure with the arrangements last month, saying that at the very least, the police should have allowed WoW to pray in the area facing the Wall behind the main prayer sections for men and women.
WoW members blew the shofar during the Wednesday morning prayers, as is customary in the month of Elul. In April, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that women should be permitted to don prayer shawls and pray according to their own customs at the Western Wall, something that was hitherto prohibited.
Before the ruling, the police were enforcing a 2003 Supreme Court ruling and Justice Ministry directives that upheld the Regulations for the Protection of Holy Places to the Jews. Those regulations, dating from 1981, forbid performing religious ceremonies that are “not according to local custom” or that “may hurt the feelings of the worshipers” at the site, where local custom is interpreted to mean Orthodox practice. This prevented women from performing Jewish customs that usually only men carry out in Orthodox practice, such as wearing a prayer shawl or reading from the Torah.
On Wednesday, the office of the rabbi of the wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, announced that both he and the Jerusalem police were calling on chareidi representatives in the Jerusalem municipality to prevent chareidi schoolgirls from going to the Western Wall this month, in light of security concerns ahead of the last day of Ramadan and the large number of Muslims expected to arrive in the Old City and the Temple Mount.
Chareidi politicians from United Torah Judaism, both national and municipal, were the driving force behind recent protests against the Women of the Wall. Rabinowitz said he also called on WoW to come “according to the previous arrangement” and not to wear tefillin. (JPost.com) v