Women arrested for donning prayer shawls at Western Wall

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jerusalem police arrested and detained four women for wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall.

The women, members of Women of the Wall, were arrested Sunday during morning prayers, which included special prayers for the new Hebrew month of Elul.

Women of the Wall holds a special prayer service at the Western Wall each month for Rosh Chodesh, or the beginning of new month. The group has met once a month at the back of the women’s section at the Western Wall for the last 20 years.

A blog post filed on the Women of the Wall’s website Sunday described the arrest of the four women, saying that they were wearing traditional-looking prayer shawls, or talitot – white with blue or black stripes, and  “were arrested mid-prayer” as they “stood amongst dozens of women who wore colorful prayer shawls and were left alone by police.”

The women were arrested for “behavior that endangers the public peace” and wearing prayer shawls. They have been forbidden to enter the Western Wall Plaza for the next 50 days, according to the organization.

“The time has come to reclaim and liberate the Kotel from the grasp of a handful of Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) extremists who, with the cooperation of the Israeli authorities, exclude the majority of Israelis and Jews from the Western Wall,” said Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall chairwoman, in a statement.

The rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz , in a statement issued Sunday expressed “shock and deep sorrow” over the behavior of the group. “Many worshippers who came to pray Sunday morning instead were forced to witness a fanatical political struggle by an extremist  group which undermines the sanctity of the Wall,” the statement said, calling the Western Wall ” a place of unity. “

“I urge the authorities to prevent this repeated behavior, aimed at provocation and hurt feelings,” the rabbi’s statement concluded.

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

In June, Israeli police detained a woman wearing a tallit at the Western Wall and later questioned her for four hours after asking her to wear her prayer shawl as a scarf. In May, three women from Women of the Wall were stopped for questioning after praying at the Wall in prayer shawls. They also had been asked to wear the tallitot as scarves rather than shawls.

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