Woman detained for donning prayer shawl at Western Wall
Women are forbidden by Israeli law from such acts at the site of the Western Wall • Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall: It is sad that the Western Wall has become an ultra-Orthodox synagogue.
Praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. A woman was detained for donning a tallit (traditional prayer shawl) at the site on Thursday.
Photo credit: Uriah Tadmor
Jerusalem District Police detained a woman who donned a tallit (traditional prayer shawl) at the Western Wall on Thursday, an act that is illegal at the site according to Israeli law.
Deborah Houben, interrogated for several hours before being released, is a member of the Women of the Wall movement, which advocates freedom for women to perform Jewish traditional acts, such as wearing prayer shawls and reading from the Torah at the Western Wall.
Police told Houben she was not allowed at the Western Wall for seven days.
On Thursday, the start of the Hebrew month of Tamuz, 66 members of Women of the Wall came to the site; 47 of them were wearing tallits — garments that are customarily only worn by men in Orthodox Judaism. According to Israeli law, a woman is permitted to wear a multicolored prayer garment at the site.
Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, told Israel Hayom, "It is very sad that the Western Wall has become an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. For the past 23 years we have represented all the sects within Judaism. We are fighting to permit women to don the tallit at least on Rosh Hodesh [the start of each new Hebrew month]."
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz expressed remorse over the incident: "Thousands of people came here to pray and instead of enjoying the holiness of the site, they were forced to witness the zealous political struggle of an extreme movement attempting to preach its views at their expense. The Western Wall is a place where the Jewish people unite, not a place for polarizing and highlighting the differences among us. I am very hurt by the choice of some interest groups to turn the Western Wall into a place of strife, in violation of an explicit Supreme Court ruling."
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said, "The only provocation that took place at the Western Wall was by the extreme ultra-Orthodox establishment, which has seized control of the site and turned it into an Orthodox synagogue, preventing women from praying there in accordance with their beliefs. The Western Wall is a heritage site that belongs to everyone and it must be characterized by tolerance and openness. Instead of harassing the Women of the Wall, it's time to implement a decades old High Court ruling that called for a place to be set aside [at the wall] for women to pray as well."
Women of the Wall activists have been detained by police in the past, including a July 2010 incident, which resulted in Hoffman being banned from the site for 30 days for carrying a Torah scroll there. That incident, like Thursday's, took place on Rosh Hodesh.
According to an account of the 2010 incident by Women of the Wall members, Hoffman was carrying a Torah scroll and leading about 150 women from the women's area of the main section of the wall towards Robinson's Arch, an area at the south end of the wall where women are permitted to use the Torah scroll. Police tried to take the scroll away from Hoffman, and then arrested her.
At the time, the organization released a statement saying, "The arrest of a woman on the first day of the month of Av is a harsh reminder of the price that Israeli society may pay for its religious intolerance and fanaticism."
The month of Av is usually at the end of the summer and Jews observe a national day of mourning on the 9th of the month, in commemoration of several tragedies that befell the Jewish people on that day, including the destruction of both Great Temples and the Spanish Inquisition.