Thousands of female haredi worshipers arrived at the site, heeding the call of community leaders rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Aharon Leib Shteinman who entreated female Ulpan students to hold a mass prayer at the Western Wall on Friday in an attempt to push aside the Women of Wall prayer set for the same time. However, the rabbis stressed there is no need to act provocatively or violently.
A mass brawl erupted at the site at around 6:30 am, during which garbage, water, coffee and various objects were flung at dozens of Women of the Wall and police forming a human barrier between the female group and the ultra-Orthodox. Three yeshiva students were detained during the clashes. Two police officers were injured lightly.
Women of the Wall (photo: Gil Yohanan)
The protest comes in response to a Jerusalem District Court ruling last month, whereby the Women of the Wall may conduct their pluralistic customs in the holy site.
Knesset members Miri Regev (Likud ) and Tamar Zandberg (Meretz ) arrived on the scene. Zandberg described the scenes as "tumultuous and exciting," saying those objecting to the female group's right to pray at the site have shown themselves to be seeking antagonism at any cost.
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Isaac Pindar (United Torah Judaism) branded Women of the Wall "the women of provocation." Pindar told Ynet the thousands of haredi women who came this morning to hold a mass prayer nearby were "the true women of the wall."
Police forces at the scene restraining a haredi man (photo: Gil Yohanan)
Reform Movement CEO Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who also arrived at the site, said the leaders of the haredi public "desecrated the sanctity" of the Western Wall by calling on ultra-Orthodox to confront the Women of the Wall.
The Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovich said "these pictures hurt the eye. The Jewish Torah should unify and I ask the Lord above to give everyone the wisdom to overcome the controversy."
He added a compromise regarding the praying sectors at the site was achieved through a Supreme Court ruling over a decade ago, but "a small group nevertheless decided to start the argument all over."
The riot again brings to the fore the issue of religion’s role – and the authority wielded by religious authorities associated with religious practice – in the modern State of Israel. In addition to being portrayed as the epicenter of Jewish prayer, the Western Wall is simultaneously a holy site and a site used for ceremonies such as soldiers’ swearing-in ceremonies and other national activities.
Until now, the site has been run in the manner of an Orthodox synagogue, with a high partition separating men’s and women’s prayer areas. Women coming to attend a bar mitzvah (a coming-of-age ceremony for boys at age 13) have had to climb up on chairs to peek over the partition in order to be part of the festivities.
Women of the Wall's Catherine Leff, 17, whose father is a Conservative rabbi, said the events actually strengthened the group and encouraged the members to sing and pray even louder. She said that at some point the haredim began to spit at the women until police cleared them from the area. According to Leff, the bus which transported the Women of the Wall out of compound was pelted with huge stones, but no one was injured.
Students enrolled in the Reform Movement's pre-military academy were also on hand to support the Women of the Wall. "We arrived from Tel Aviv to show our support," one of them said. "It is also a lesson in democracy, as there is no law that forbids women from praying in this manner."
During the prayer, a woman approached the yeshiva students and yelled out "Israel's chief rabbi will be a woman." She was immediately removed from the area by police.
Yaakov, a 21-year-old haredi, said, "What these women are doing is disgraceful and against the Torah. We will continue to fight them. A woman draped in a tallit (prayer shawl) is ridiculous. Jews do not act this way. I am willing to get arrested. Some things justify a violent reaction."