Knesset members join Women of the Wall at rosh chodesh services

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Three female members of Knesset joined the Women of the Wall for their monthly prayer service at the Western Wall.

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No arrests were made during the prayer service Tuesday morning marking the new Jewish month of Nissan, the first time in at least a year that no arrests were made during the rosh chodesh gathering. But the female lawmakers, as well as several other women, reportedly were stopped by police who demanded that they leave their prayer shawls behind before entering the Western Wall Plaza.

The three Knesset members, Stav Shaffir of the Labor party, and Tamar Zandberg and Michal Rozin of the Meretz party, used their Knesset immunity in order to enter the area with their prayer shawls. Other women hid their talitot in bags or under layers of clothing to get them inside the plaza.

Shaffir wrote on her Facebook page: “For 24 years, the Women of the Wall have been praying at a site sacred to the Jewish people and for years they have been stopped just because they seek to pray in their own way. This morning, following hate banners in the haredi press, I joined them. At first we were prevented from entering the square on the grounds we were disturbing the order but there is nothing that 100 women armed with a shawl can’t do.”

The Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, condemned Tuesday’s prayer service in a statement issued to the media. He said the women brought “brothers against brothers in unnecessary confrontation” and said that the wall next to Robinson’s Arch has been designated as the area for women’s prayer services.  

“The Western Wall is the only place shared by all the people of Israel – and it is not the place to decide or express a world view,” Rabinowitz said. “I urge anyone for whom the Wall is dear to do whatever he can to keep disputes outside the plaza, and leave the people of Israel one place where there are no demonstrations, clashes and hatred.”

Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman on Sunday lodged a formal complaint with Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Israel Police Chief Yohanan Danino alleging “incitement of violence against Women of the Wall” over  unsigned posters, called pashkevillim , that were hung in haredi Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the organization said on its website.  

Women of the Wall has held a special prayer service at the holy site almost each month for the last 20 years on rosh chodesh, or the beginning of a new Hebrew month, at the back of the women’s section.

 At the beginning of the last Hebrew month, Adar, Jerusalem police arrested 10 women, including the sister and niece of American comedian Sarah Silverman, for disturbing public order. Two weeks later, a women’s Megillah reading for Purim took place undisturbed.

In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallit, prayer shawls, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Wall.

Events in support of the Women of the Wall took place in cities throughout the United States, including in Washington D.C., where about 125 women, men and children sang songs and prayed in front of the Israeli Embassy, accompanied by guitars, tambourines and clapping.
A letter from Anat Hoffman was read aloud to the crowd. “I want to hug each of you. I want to shake everyone’s hand,” said the letter read by Judy Gelmen, who also spoke about the history of the growing movement. “We are one in conviction that there is more than one way to be a Jew in Israel and at the Wall,” Hoffman wrote in her letter.

“The words ‘A woman was arrested for wearing a tallit should not be coming out of Israel,” but rather from a “more regressive nation,” said Rabbi Esther Lederman of Temple Micah in Washington D.C., who was in the crowd with her 20-month-old son, Ari.

Aaron Sagui, embassy spokesman, promised to convey the group’s message to Jerusalem.

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