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3 women arrested while praying at Western Wall in 24 hours

Head of Women of the Wall was held in custody the entire night after trying to pray at the holy site while wearing a prayer shawl – a practice reserved only for men, according to Orthodox Judaism.

Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall (Nshot Ha-Kotel) arrested at the Western Wall, Old City of Jerusalem (photo: Women of the Wall)

Three members of Women of the Wall (Neshot Hakotel), a group of Jewish women which seeks to conduct prayers and read from Torah at the Western Wall, were arrested by police in the last 24 hours, during the “Rosh Hodesh Heshvan” (new month prayers) at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. The head of the organization, Anat Hoffman, was arrested last night for “disturbing public order,” while trying to pray at the Wall. Director Lesley Sachs and board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun were detained Wednesday morning for the same offense.

Rachel and Lesley were released after a short detention at the police station in the Old City, although Anat Hoffman was taken to the police station at the Russian Compound. She has refused to speak to the police without the presence of an attorney and was held in detention the entire night. At the time of writing, Anat was undergoing interrogation. Other members of the organization held their morning prayer outside the police station; members of Israel Religious Action Center also arrived at the station.

Lesley Sachs of Women of the Wall being taken by police from the Western Wall, October 17 2012

According to the organization, Women of the Wall “seeks the right for Jewish women from Israel and around the world to conduct prayer services, read from a Torah scroll while wearing prayer shawls, and sing out loud at the Western Wall– Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people hood and sovereignty.” Orthodox Jews believe that only men can wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah. As a result, religious rabbis often try to prevent the women from conducting their prayers at the wall. The police is supportive of the Orthodox approach, and arrests of women have taken place several times.

The Orthodox Rabbinate has legal monopoly in Israel over all religious services for Jews, including the management of the Western Wall.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Reform Movement in Israel responded to the incident, saying that “the arrest of the Women of the Wall by the police is a further reminder of the need to completely alter the relation of state and religion in Israel, and to reverse the Orthodox monopoly. The struggle over the Kotel is a major part in the fight to let women sit in the front of the bus [in lines serving religious communities – N.S.], to sing and to receive equal treatment in the religious courts.”

Women of the Wall and Pussy Riot: Unlikely partners in the same struggle

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    1. Shaun

      I still don’t understand this. I would be grateful for some sincere input.
      If reform Judaism is able to adapt and model Judaism to modern ways, why are they clinging to prayers at the Western outer wall of the temple. The Sothern Wall as open to reform prayer without restriction.
      If this is about worship, then why does God prefer one wall over another? I’m especially curios to know this considering that reform Judaism reject much of the rabbinical dogma regarding halachic stagnation. Why is this not the for the legends (for lack of a better word) of the Kotel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Rachel Cohen Yeshurun

        Women of the Wall is a pluralistic group of Israeli women from diverse backgrounds. Our group includes Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and non-denominational women. The kotel is important to us all in as many ways as there are ways to be Jewish. There is a law in Israel prohibiting a person from praying out loud at the kotel or wearing a tallit at the kotel – if that person is a woman. That is a wrong and discriminatory law. Women of the Wall are working to change this.

        Reply to Comment
      • Rachel

        I’d like to offer you some clarification, though it is hard to know where to start.

        The Southern Wall is not open to prayer without restrictions. While the way a person prays there is not restricted, access to the site is. One can only enter during certain hours of the day if part of a group who made pre-arrangements, or by paying admission. An individual is not allowed to simply walk over there and pray at any time of day, as people are at the Western Wall.

        Perhaps of more importance, though, is your comment about “clinging to prayers at the Western outer wall”. First of all, the women of Women of the Wall come from all denominations of Judaism. They are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, non-denominational, and probably more. Many of them live their lives according to halakhah, and many include references to the Temple and sacrifices in their worship.

        Even for those who don’t, Reform Judaism (or any other branch of Judaism that I’m aware of) does not challenge that the Western Wall is an important site for Jews. It is holy because of it’s sacred history and the holiness imbued in it by the thousands of prayers that are uttered there every day, even for someone who does not hold themselves to a halakhic system or pray for the rebuilding of the Temple and the re-institution of Temple worship. Halakhah has little to do with worshiping at the kotel at all — there is no halakhah that says one must worship at the Western Wall. So, if halakhah is your concern, you could say also to the ultra-Orthodox that they should just pray somewhere else. But neither for the ultra-Orthodox nor for the Women of the Wall is praying at the kotel just about Jewish law. It is about worshiping God at a holy Jewish site, which has been the focus of worship for thousands of years.

        Reply to Comment
        • Shaun

          Rachel, thank you for the response. I appreciated the depth and sincerity. I have a lot more to learn with regards to this issue and I look forward to challenging and being challenged further as I delve deeper into this issue.
          One further question: Where do Women of the Wall stand with regards to Jewish prayer on the Temple mount? I ask this because a while back a suggestion was made that there should be a partnership between Woman of the wall and Temple mount faithful. Its does make for strange bedfellows but both groups offer legitimate challenges the present religious standing in the area.

          Reply to Comment
      • sh

        You’re right about this Reform fixation on the wall. I’ve always thought that worshipping a wall seems to contradict the commandment about graven images. You can worship God anywhere, surely.

        But even for Orthodox women the place is insulting. Mothers who want to see their sons’ bar-mitzvahs have to signal their menfolk to bring them some chairs (men are allowed into the ladies’ section, but not vice-versa) so that they can climb onto them to do what women are permitted to do: peer over the partition, film and throw candy.

        Reply to Comment
    2. XYZ

      I am not sure whether these women want to serve G-d, or rather to make provocations. There are other locations near the Temple Mount where they can do whatever they want. Prayers are conducted according to certain customs at the Western Wall, and just as these women would never dream of going ON the Temple Mount and praying because it would be offensive to the Muslims there (thus all Jewish prayers are banned there even though it is the holiest site in Judaism, holier than the Western Wall site itself), thus they should not attempt to change the prayer customs at the Western Wall.

      I find it odd that they would want to pray there at all. After all, why is the Western Wall considered holy? Because it adjoins the site of the two ancient Batei Mikdash (Holy Temples) of Judaism where animal sacrifices and other rites “progressive” Jews like these women would no doubt find abhorrent. This is why I think really all they are doing is trying to make provocations, and not express true religious fervor.

      Reply to Comment
      • Aaron Gross

        Spokeswomen for the group have said that their intent is to pray, not to protest. I think we should charitably take them at their word.

        They still shouldn’t be allowed to do it, though. Their claims are irreconcilable with Orthodox claims, and the Orthodox were there first.

        Reply to Comment
        • Yakov

          The first Israelis at the wall were soldiers, most of whom were probably secular.

          Reply to Comment
      • sh

        “I find it odd that they would want to pray there at all. After all, why is the Western Wall considered holy? Because it adjoins the site of the two ancient Batei Mikdash”
        I find it odd that Jews would want to pray on the Temple Mount, considering those two Temples weren’t there anymore by the time the Dome and the Mosque were built not far short of a millennium and a half ago. On the other hand, The Wall happens to actually be there. Not only that, but pictorial historical evidence clearly shows that Jewish men and women prayed together at that Wall down the ages without fences or barriers, until the Israeli Rabbinate was given custody of it by the Israeli government.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Mitchell Cohen

      I am VERY sympathetic to the organization “Tzohar” and am in favor of civil marriages in Israel (I wasn’t always, but after much soul searching I am). However, I agree with XYZ that this is more of a photo-op to be seen as “martyrs” being arrested by the police. Of course, when Jews (or Christians) are forbidden from praying on the Temple Mount, that makes the front page of Haaretz….

      Reply to Comment
    4. David

      972+ should simply avoid adding any additional comments on issues they aren’t expert on.

      The statements below are generalizations, sloppy, and incorrect.

      If you can’t construct the exact informative sentences, just DON’T include them.

      (I’m sure you wouldn’t allow such mistakes on issues such as the Palestinians and the Territories to pass)

      “Orthodox Jews believe that only men can wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah. As a result, religious rabbis often try to prevent the women from conducting their prayers at the wall. The police is supportive of the Orthodox approach, and arrests of women have taken place several times.”

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jim Bishop

      This is just another example of the inherent insanity of organized religion. ANY organized religion. It is easy to show that some Jews are as crazy as anyone else that hangs out with the idea of a sky daddy. It becomes very clear when the power of government is combined with religious claptrap. It is dangerous as well, as the pages of human history graphically document.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        You’re right. The world needs more enlightened athiests/agnostics like Pol Pot, Josef Stalin, Hitler, Mao and others.

        Reply to Comment
        • David

          Hitler makes splendid references to Providence throughout Mein Kampf and his public speeches, not to mention his belief that he is fulfilling God’s will. Furthermore, the underpinnings of Nazi philosophy is German blood cults and Norse mythology, hardly a set beliefs held by those who repudiate the supernatural.

          Stalin was educated in a Georgian seminary. The structure of Stalinist Russia follows some rather conspicuous patterns. Ritualistic purges, miraculous harvests (otherwise known as Lysenko’s biology), a centralization of the power in a single father figure from whom flows all blessings. The alignment with the Orthodox church is shocking, to the point where Stalin is now a memorabilia cult figure whose countenance is printed onto calendars and the like with halos capping his dome. Sound familiar?

          The leaders you mentioned and the societies they controlled didn’t lapse into beggary, self-destruction, and murderous rampage due to an abundance of skepticism and scientific inquiry. They stood on a shoddy wicket composed of superstition, credulity, servility, solipsism, and faith.

          The trouble with statements along the lines you have put forth, such as “well atheist have done terrible things look at x,y,z”, is that its a simple catchy line, and fool can remember it and spit it back without bothering to examine the cases to which they have referred.
          Now, atheism isn’t a sufficient condition for the just city, morality, and prosperity, but it is a necessary one.
          It is also not a particularly informative classification. i.e. one can be an atheist and an anarchist, fascist (although usually they are Catholics), Marxist, capitalist, used car salesman, Jewish communism pornographer, etc… It is simply the repudiation of the belief in the supernatural.



          Reply to Comment
      • Mitchell Cohen

        Absolutely, the days of the KGB and the iron curtain were very “enlightening”. How can we all not long for such a society?

        Reply to Comment
    6. Steve

      As an Israeli, it embarrasses me that this is the law and that police have to enforce it.

      The Kotel is NOT an Orthodox synagogue. Not only should female prayer be allowed in all its splendor in the woman’s side, the mechitza should come down so that men and women who choose to pray together can do so. Again, the Kotel is NOT the property of the Orthodox or Haredim — it is Holy for all Jews (as well as Christians and Muslims).

      And, while we are at it, Jews and Christians should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount as well.

      Reply to Comment
    7. aristeides

      Only in Saudi Arabia and Israel are Jews arrested for praying in public.

      If it doesn’t make any difference where they pray, why not have the haredi males moved to some other location?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Danny

      More proof (as if we needed any more) that Israel is NOT a truly democratic state; rather, it is a pseudo-democratic state that pays lip service to democratic ideals such as freedom of speech and equality for all citizens, while in reality fully adheres to the most strict edicts dictated by its army generals and orthodox rabbis. Really no different in this regard from Iran or Saudi Arabia. The only real difference being that in Israel a woman who dares infringe on a man’s holy turf will only spend a day or two in a police station, while in the aforementioned Islamic analogues, a woman will likely suffer severe physical punishment. Small difference, but important nonetheless.

      Reply to Comment
      • Laurent Szyster

        More proof that you should visit Mecca dressed like a gay rabbi …

        Reply to Comment
        • The difference is the Saudis are honest about being a theocracy. Israel, like a pig which shows its hoofs pretending to be kosher, claims to be a democracy.

          Reply to Comment
    9. Carole

      It never fails to amaze me that a country that tolerates people wearing machine guns while they pray but arrests woman for wearing a prayer shawl. God wouldn’t understand that mentality either.

      Reply to Comment
      • charles

        to Carole,
        G.. sitting on the edge of the world with his white hair does not care about human conflicts on the ways to honor it/they. It is just a problem between religious people who have state support and other religious people who do not have state support.

        Reply to Comment
    10. sh

      “The struggle over the Kotel is a major part in the fight to let women sit in the front of the bus [in lines serving religious communities – N.S.], to sing and to receive equal treatment in the religious courts.”

      The struggle has broadened since then, Noam. Mehadrin lines in shops and supermarkets, mehadrin tours and mehadrin walkways. I was in Jerusalem yesterday after a long absence and spotted old pashkevil posters from Shavuot exhorting women not to come to the Wall at all on Shavuot night (a night when men learn until morning there and in most synagogues). In addition to super-kasher, mehadrin now means rigidly imposed separation between the sexes in more and more walks of public every-day life.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Dave Boxthorn

      It tells you all you need to know about males who read this website that they are only commenting about the woman in the middle of the top photo instead of the woman on the right.

      One of these days I’ll tell you where babies come from. Until then perhaps you should refrain from showing your lack of testes.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Elisabeth

      Little Davey pulling his thorn out of his boxers, eager to teach us that babies come from his bulging testes. How pathetic can you get…

      Reply to Comment
    13. sh

      ‘Twasn’t the prayer shawls after all. Apparently this (see video) warranted the punishments meted out by the police. The women’s voices chant (no mikes) and the men’s ears and heaven knows what else are out on stalks. Doesn’t take much. Or, from the shouts of “sheket” that drown the chanting, it might well have been the other women present who complained.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Heaven forefend that haredi ears be offended by the words of the Torah.

        Reply to Comment
    14. UmmAhmed

      Thats oppression!!
      Did god say it´s not allowed for women to pray?
      I think someone didnt understand their religion right!!

      Reply to Comment
    15. yudit

      There is NOTHING in orthodox Judaism and Halakha against women praying, nor against women praying at the Kotel with or without a women’s prayer shawl. But as usual, there are SOME orthodox whose interpretation of Jewish law causes them to oppose it. Women and men have prayed at the wall for centuries together, suddenly that was no longer all right. I’m frnakly quite astonished at 972 ‘s statement “orthodoxy is against it”. NO it is not, some orthodox people are and they happen to be in power. There is a lot of mis and disinformation going around in this discourse.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Do you think that because of policies like this the public (that elected governments that chose to give these rabbis the power they “happen” to have by universal suffrage) will vote differently? We have this situation at the kotel and the other situations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, all of which see people happening to be in power whose views a significant majority of the population claims not to share. It has dragged us all into nightmares even wildest imaginations never conceived. What will drag us out of them if we have reached these situations “legally” and “democratically”?

        Reply to Comment
    16. This is wrong!The women of Israel have the right to worship at the wall,they have won the right over the year’s fighting to protect their country.The ones that should be removed are the orthodox men that won’t serve in the military.For this reason I want my government to refuse support until this has changed.I used to date a wonderful woman who was an officer in the IDF,and to denie her or any other woman the right to pray at the wall and to throw them into JAIL is WRONG.

      Reply to Comment
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