Women of the Wall searched at holy site despite high court ruling

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Women who planned to participate in a Women of the Wall prayer service at the Western Wall were ordered to subject to a body search despite a Supreme Court injunction against the practice.

The women rejected the body searches on Thursday morning and held their morning service at the security checkpoint at the entrance to the Western Wall plaza instead.

Israel’s Supreme Court last week ruled in favor of women being allowed to read from the Torah in the women’s section at the Western Wall and declared that an egalitarian prayer area set aside at nearby Robinson’s Arch does not constitute access to the holy site. In an interim injunction gave the wall’s Orthodox administrators and state agencies 30 days to show cause why women cannot pray “in accordance with their custom” or allow them to pray as they choose.

It also declared that women should not be subjected to body searches before entering the plaza. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Orthodox-run body that oversees activity at the site, has authorized such searches to prevent worshippers from entering the women’s side with Torah scrolls, prayer shawls, tefillin and menorahs.

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The women on Thursday morning were asked to remove their coats, but none were asked to strip down any further, according to Haaretz.

“In brazen defiance of the Supreme Court’s recent injunction prohibiting body searches of Women of the Wall, his ushers demanded Women of the Wall open our coats and expose our clothes. We refused,” Lesley Sachs, executive director of the Women of the Wall, said in a statement issued after the Morning Prayer service.  “Women of the Wall, accompanied by a delegation of the central Conference of American Rabbis,  was forced to pray by the security checkpoint, hundreds of feet from the Western Wall and some 150 Torah scrolls ostensibly available to the public, but not to women.”

The service on Thursday was held to mark the one-year anniversary of an agreement for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall, which was negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government, and passed by the Knesset.

Under the January agreement, which was approved by the Cabinet, the egalitarian section of the wall near Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and placed under the authority of a pluralist committee. The plan called for solidifying haredi Orthodox control over the site’s traditional Orthodox section.

Haredi Orthodox lawmakers and some from the Jewish Home and Likud parties in December submitted a bill to the Knesset to prevent non-Orthodox public prayer at the Western Wall.