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Women of the Wall (archives) Photo: Gali Tibbon
Women of the Wall (archives) Photo: Gali Tibbon
 
 

Women of Wall to policemen: Hands off!

Members of liberal Jewish group demand that male police officers 'avoid physical contact with female worshippers' while intervening in women's attempts to pray at Western Wall

Kobi Nahshoni
Published: 02.10.13, 13:03 / Israel Jewish Scene

The Women of the Wall organization is demanding that policemen avoid physical contact with members of the group when intervening in the women's attempts to pray at the Western Wall.

 

Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the liberal Jewish group, said in a letter to the Israel Police commissioner and internal security minister that such contact offends the religious sentiments of the worshippers, some of whom are Orthodox women.

 

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Hoffman turned to Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino and Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch ahead of the Women of the Wall's monthly prayer planned for Monday, the first day of the Jewish month of Adar.

 

This month's event is particularly significant as it will be attended by a large group of supporters who are not part of the regular group of worshippers.

 

"In light of many cases in the past year in which policemen physically grabbed female worshippers and led them forcibly to the police station, I turn to you with an urgent request to order the Jerusalem Police commander to instruct the forces stationed in the Western Wall area to avoid physical contact between policemen and female worshippers," Hoffman wrote.

 

She added that such contact "crosses a red line, offending the worshippers from a religious and halachic point of view."

 

'Maintain worshippers' dignity'

Hoffman added that there was no need to use force and physical contact in order to detain the group members, as they usually cooperated with the police and did not resist arrest.

 

"If needed, I ask you to instruct the forces stationed in the area to use female officers in order to maintain the worshippers' dignity and faith," she wrote.

 

Hoffman told Ynet that as far as she knew, the High Court had permitted women to cover themselves with prayer shawls in the Western Wall plaza, but that the police were adopting the Western Wall rabbi's strict interpretation of the court ruling and arresting or detaining female worshippers doing so nearly every month.

 

According to the Women of the Wall chairwoman, the group's conduct at the holy site was not aimed at creating a provocation. "This is supported by the fact that not one of the dozens of women detained at the site in the past few years has been indicted for this offense," she said.

 

A senior Jerusalem Police source told Ynet in response, "The Women of the Wall had better focus on observing the law according to the High Court ruling, rather than on the gender of law enforcers at the Western Wall plaza."

 

The source clarified that "the police will continue enforcing the High Court ruling as long as no other decision is made."

 

Western Wall facing change?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently turned to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky in an effort to reach an agreement that would end the dispute over the Western Wall's religious nature, so that each and every Jew would be able to visit and pray at the site according to their faith.

 

The appeal was made after community leaders and organization heads strongly protested the arrest of several Women of the Wall members who had attempted to pray at the women's section wearing a prayer shawl.

 

The organizations' heads argued that the current policy excluded them from one of the most sacred places to the Jewish people, and was essentially treating the majority of the Jewish people as "second class Jews."

 

They warned the prime minister and Jewish Agency chairman that the situation could affect the support given to Israel by Diaspora Jews.

 

The mission of mediating between the parties was given to Sharansky, who is in close contact with leaders of the world's Jewish communities (especially the Reform and Conservative ones), as well as with the haredi public in Israel and the government.

 

The Jewish Agency chairman is pursuing an agreement which would be based on upgrading the Robinson's Arch site, where – according to a High Court ruling – women are allowed to pray as they wish, and lifting some of the restrictions imposed on women at the Western Wall plaza.

 

About a month ago, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, women's organizations and various pluralistic movements petitioned the High Court of Justice against the prime minister and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

 

The groups demanded that seculars, Reform Jews and women be given equal representation in the management of the Western Wall, and asked the court to remove the control of the holy site from the hands of the Western Wall rabbi.

 

"Modesty usherettes have been stationed on the site, forcing women to cover themselves with scarves, even when their clothing is not revealing in any way. The Western Wall and its entire plaza has turned into a prayer site of a haredi nature, and non-religious events are hardly ever held there," they said.

 

 

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