Clashes erupted at Dizengoff Square on Yom Kippur Eve Sunday evening between hundreds of Tel Aviv residents and the organizers of a gender-segregated prayer in the city.
The organizers from the Rosh Yehudi Yeshiva used Israeli flags as a makeshift partition, contrary to a court ruling and the decision of the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality which disallowed gender-segregated prayer.
Residents who passed through the area before the holiday began pointed out that the entire square was blocked off - and that the court's decision ruled it's prohibited to obstruct public spaces, but the organizers continued undeterred.
By around 6pm, the square was bustling with people, and some residents protested against holding the prayer session and against the attempt to bypass the court's decision. The police tried to mediate between the prayer organizers and the residents who chanted, "There's no place for gender segregation in Tel Aviv" and "There will be no religious coercion here."
One of the protesters shouted at Rosh Yehudi Chairman Rabbi Yisrael Zeira, "Why should I accept you in my public space? In my home? Shame!"
The confrontations continued, and the atmosphere in the square became even more tense. Religious women who arrived at the scene burst into tears, saying they "can't believe this is happening to the people of Israel."
One of the protestors climbed onto the stage that was set up and took down the flags. Police present at the scene arrested him, and he was detained for questioning for several hours.
After about an hour of confrontations that cast a shadow over the city's atmosphere as Yom Kippur began, members of Rosh Yehudi and others decided to leave the location and pray at the nearby synagogue.
After Yom Kippur concluded, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement condemning the protestors who disrupted the prayers.
"The people of Israel sought to unite on Yom Kippur, in a request for forgiveness and unity among us," he posted to his social media accounts. "To our astonishment, in the Jewish state, on the holiest day for the Jewish people, left-wing protestors acted out against Jews during their prayers. It seems there are no boundaries, no norms and no limit to the hatred from the extremists on the left. I, like the majority of Israeli citizens, reject this. Such violent behavior has no place among us."
Chief Rabbi David Lau said, "I heard with great dismay about the events that happened on the holiest day for the people of Israel. The most special day of the year turned, due to the frenzied incitement of religion haters, into a sad day. Some forgot the essence of the day and continued the waves of simmering hatred.
"The residents of Tel Aviv who came to pray did so according to Halacha (Jewish law) without imposing anything on anyone. The events remind us of difficult times in Jewish history. The State of Israel should be a place where one can live according to what Judaism mandates - Jewishness is no less important than democracy."
Confrontations were also recorded at Habima Square and State Square, where similar attempts at gender-segregated prayers were made. The unrest continued Monday, especially near the TLV mall, where scuffles broke out among worshippers, residents and protestors. Throughout the city, demonstrators sought to interrupt segregated prayers in public areas by singing or by men and women occupying spaces designated for the opposite gender.
Yom Kippur this year coincided with heightened tensions in Israel, driven largely by the government's judicial reform plan and laws concerning religion and state. These tensions were evident not only at Dizengoff Square but throughout the country in recent days.