VIDEO - Five members of the Women of the Wall organization, including Director Lesley Sachs and another board member, were detained by the police Thursday morning in the midst of the liberal group's monthly prayer at the Western Wall, after covering themselves with a prayer shawl in contradiction to the holy site's custom.
Police also arrested an ultra-Orthodox protestor who burned books at the men's section, claiming they contained "heresy material," and prayed demonstratively against the Women of the Wall.
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
Knesset Members Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), who participated in the prayer, asked to escort the detainees to the police station, but were blocked by police officers. After voicing their protest over the fact that they were being restricted despite their immunity, they were allowed to escort the women.
Lesley Sachs detained by police (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
"A day after the cheerful publication of the (Jewish Agency Chairman Natan) Sharansky outline for an egalitarian Western Wall plaza, the Israeli government sends the police to arrest women wearing prayer shawls," said Zandberg. "The detentions during today's prayer clarify the sincerity of the outline proposal."
MK Rozin said that Sharansky's idea was a good one, but that she did not expect to see it implemented on the ground.
"In any event, we expect to hear it from Sharansky in a proper manner, rather than through the media and from the world Jewry," she said. "In any case, until it is implemented, the Women of the Wall must be allowed to pray properly and quietly.
"There is no real religious dispute here," she added. "It is solely political. We are talking about an Israeli public sphere which much be equal for men, women and all of Judaism's movements. This is probably the only place in the world where Jewish women cannot pray freely."
Protest at men's section too (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
Some of the women arrived at the site with prayer shawls, which they are banned from wearing, most of which were confiscated by the security forces at the entrance to the plaza. Some of the shawls were smuggled in by the women, including the MKs who enjoy immunity.
Some of the women also laid phylacteries. The reading from the Torah, which according to a High Court ruling must take place at Robinson's Arch, where the women move to in the middle of the prayer, was held at the Western Wall plaza this time.
"This Wall belongs to all of us'
While the women were taken away by the police, dozens of female worshippers and their supporters protested against the arrests, chanting: "Freedom of religion for Israel."
They were faced by a number of haredi protesters who chanted, "You have no part in the Jewish people's God. The Western Wall does not belong to Yesh Atid." Sachs replied as she was being detained, "This Wall does not belong to you, it belongs to all of us."
MKs tries to escort detainees (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
The women's prayer in honor of the first day of the Jewish month of Iyar was held just one day after the revelation of the outline for an equal division of the Western Wall suggested by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, which the group of women has yet to officially respond to with a clear stance.
While Sachs said the group must study the program thoroughly before making a stand, Chairman of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism Gilad Kariv said it would lead to victory in any case.
"If it is implemented, then the Women of the Wall's battle has succeeded. And if the plan is not implemented, it will be very difficult – from a public and legal aspect – to say that after such an acceptable outline, the Women of the Wall will go back to praying at Robinson's Arch, a small and ancient mikveh from 2,500 years ago. So in any case, we have won."
Hadassah Morgolis, whose eight-year-old daughter was spat on in Beit Shemesh for being 'immodest,' arrives to show solidarity with women (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
He added that if the outline would not be implemented, the High Court would be petitioned to re-divide the existing plaza into three parts, especially after the men's section has been expanded over the years.
"This morning it has been proved that there is a direct relations between the attitude towards the Women of the Wall and inappropriate and violent behavior against serving Knesset members. This comes as further proof that the battle over the Western Wall is not a battle for freedom of religion, but a battle over the image of the State of Israel."
Spontaneous haredi protests
Attorney Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel, welcomed the outline as well, saying that if the move succeeded, it would be a historical recognition by the State of Israel in the non-Orthodox movements and in their part in national sites like the Western Wall.
He called the women's arrest "unclear foolishness," adding that "the entire Jewish people has hopes regarding the Western Wall after Sharansky courageously presented a plan forcing all of us to compromise, yet the Western Wall rabbi continues with his tricks. He promised no arrests over the Kaddish prayer, but the prayer shawls still hurts his eyes."
Chanting against Women of Wall (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
Throughout Thursday's prayer, small groups of haredim held a spontaneous protest near the dividing screen at the men's section side. They chanted, recited Psalms, prayers and songs.
Yeshiva students protesting against the Women of the Wall shouted at the MKs, "They are breaking the law. That's much worse than not going to the army."
MK Aliza Lavi (Yesh Atid), chairwoman of the Knesset's Committee on the Status of Women, said that following the ongoing crisis she planned to convene a special discussion on the matter as soon as possible.
"The Knesset is the right place for clarifying the differences, not the Western Wall plaza," she said. "We will invite all the relevant people to the discussion, and together we will try to reach a solution through a dialogue between the parties."