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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Jerusalem - Woman Detained At Kotel For Wearing Tallit

Jerusalem - Police on Thursday detained a woman at the Western Wall for over three hours after she and 65 other women from the Women of the Wall organization had concluded their Rosh Hodesh prayer service. Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben Ruby said that Houben was detained for wearing a men’s tallit, or prayer shawl, something forbidden for women by Israeli law at the Western Wall.

Houben was fingerprinted and photographed in the police station, and released just over three hours later. She was also banned from going to the Western Wall for seven days, on pain of a NIS 3,000 fine. “I know I’ve been warned before and that it’s not allowed,” Houben said, “but I feel like I’m not doing anything wrong. In fact, I think I’m doing something right."

“I continue to do this because I think change is necessary here,” she added.

Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, said that 47 of the 66 women who prayed at the service were also wearing prayer shawls, although they were of the more colorful and decorative type.

Houben was wearing a traditional black and white talit draped over her shoulders in the typical manner in which they are worn. The police said that according to a negotiated compromise, women are only allowed to wear “female” tallit, which are multi-colored tallit that are draped around the neck, Ben Ruby said. “Male tallit” are black and white or blue and white and worn folded across the shoulders.

However, Hoffman said she was unaware of any agreement related to the acceptable styles of wearing a tallit and added that she had never been approached within any forum to discuss the issue. Ben Ruby said that police asked Houben to remove the men’s tallit, and after she refused they detained her for questioning. She was released after three hours.

“They know it's forbidden to wear a men’s tallit in the women’s section,” said Ben Ruby, adding that the rules were agreed on in order to protect the “holiness of the site.” In response to Houben’s detention, the group of women began singing in solidarity with her, but were told by police that their activities constituted an unauthorized protest which would be forcibly dispersed unless they stopped. Following the incident, Rabbi of the Western Wall plaza Shmuel Rabinovitch denounced the Women of the Wall as “a group of extremists,” conducting “a fanatical political struggle,” saying that it was extremely regrettable that “special interest groups” turn the Western Wall plaza into a place of strife.

“The Western Wall is a place for the unity of the Jewish people, not for the sharpening of differences,” said Rabinovitch. “There is no merit in any type of prayer which brings about dispute, argument, desecration of Gods name and desecration of the holiness of the Western Wall.” MK NItzan Horowitz of Meretz said that “the only provocation that occurred on Thursday at the site was from the extremist haredi establishment.”

“The Western Wall is a site of heritage for everyone and must be characterized by tolerance and openness,” the MK said.

Hoffman said that “the result of handing over the keys to Judaism’s holiest site to an extremist minority is that police have to waste their time dealing with fashion statements.”

According to a 2001 law, it is illegal for women to perform religious practices traditionally done by men in Orthodox Jewish practice at the Western Wall, such as reading from a Torah scroll, wearing tefillin or a tallit, or blowing a shofar, because it may offend the religious sensibilities of others. A similar incident occurred during last month’s Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh service, when a policeman readjusted the tallit of rabbinical student Sarit Horwitz without her permission after he accused her of wearing it in the male style.

According to the Women of the Wall, three women were briefly questioned by the police and asked for their identity details after this service as well. In 2004, an area abutting the Western Wall – adjacent to Robinson’s Arch, but separate from the Western Wall plaza – was inaugurated as a place of prayer for non-Orthodox Jewish groups to pray as they wish.

However, the Women of the Wall claim that the site is inadequate since there are no chairs, prayer books or Torah scrolls available for use. Additionally, the prayer space is only open during operating hours of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park where it is located, and therefore is not available in the evenings.

Source:  Jerusalem Post

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