Egalitarian prayer supporters barred from entering Western Wall plaza


(JTA) — Security guards at the Western Wall prevented a group of men and women promoting gender-egalitarian prayer for accessing the holy site’s main plaza with a Torah scroll.

In the incident Friday, about 300 people were barred from entering the main plaza of the Western Wall while holding a Torah scroll, according to Women of the Wall, a group which is fighting for the lifting of regulations barring women from introducing Torah scroll to the site, singing aloud, wearing kippahs or praying with men.

The group included dozens of veterans of the Six Day War, in which the Israel Defense Forces took over eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, Women of the Wall spokesperson Hila Perl told JTA.

“The plan was to enter the plaza together, and then have the women go to the women’s section,” she said.

Advertisement: The Grande at Chesterfield

At the end of their prayer at the women’s section, Women of the Wall joined their supporters, who waited with the Torah scroll at the egalitarian prayer section at the southern entrance to the plaza.

One of the supporters, a Six Day War veteran named Micha Eshet, 70, was shoved to the ground by Orthodox protesters while holding the scroll, according to Perl. The Women of the Wall group and their supporters encountered shouts, hisses and shrieks by Orthodox worshipers, she said.

The supporters of women of the Wall who showed up at the site Friday were protesting the government’s refusal to apply a compromise reached on prayer there between the authorities and promoters of egalitarian prayer.

Under the compromise, the government agreed to expand and upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall. The agreement puts the upgraded section on equal footing with the single-sex sections; it would be run by a special committee with no input from the Chief Rabbinate.

In June, the Cabinet suspended the deal passed in 2016 as a result of negotiations between the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government. The suspension came after the government’s haredi Orthodox coalition partners pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scrap the agreement. The government has said it plans to go forward with the expansion of the egalitarian section despite the freeze on other terms of the compromise.