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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Jerusalem clashes expected as Women of the Wall to hold monthly Kotel prayers

Thousands are expected at the Western Wall this morning to mark the first day of the Jewish month of Tamuz. They will include those coming to pray, and those protesting against those praying. 

The Women of the Wall group will take advantage, for the second time, of the permission granted them by the Jerusalem District Court to pray in the women's section of the plaza according to their "custom" - in prayer shawls and tefillin. Facing them will be thousands of protesting Haredim.

Large numbers of police will be on hand, too, to separate the sides and attempt to reduce tensions.

Last Rosh Hodesh - for the month of Sivan - the police allowed the hundreds of women to pray, but tensions were great and spilled over into violence as thousands of ultra-Orthodox men and women came out to disrupt the Women of the Wall's prayer service.

The government has yet to approve new regulations defining what is permitted and forbidden as "local custom" - Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Sobel's ruling - at the Kotel. 

While the politicians involved had hoped to finish the process by now, it is clear there are many hurdles - political and legal - ahead before the issue will be resolved.

The friction will potentially only be worse today. Last week, the chief rabbis received threatening letters at their offices (the rabbi of the Western Wall and MK Moshe Gafni - United Torah Judaism - were also recipients ). The letters warned that they should allow the women to pray as they wished. If not, they would "return home with the bodies of a hundred Haredim."

The ultra-Orthodox Yated Ne'eman newspaper wrote Friday that tens of thousands of worshipers would "sanctify the name of God" this morning, at a prayer service called by a major Haredi leader of the non-Hasidic, "Lithuanian" sect, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman. He called on only those older, married yeshiva students living in Jerusalem to come for the prayer service, and asked the younger students to remain in their yeshivot and "cry out bitterly against the despicable plot of those [persecuting] religion in the Holy Land."

Meanwhile, a group of rabbinical leaders in Los Angeles, spanning the denominational spectrum, published an open letter Thursday calling for calm at the Wall.

The Task Force on Jewish Unity - comprised of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Progressive and Reconstructionist leaders - penned the letter to express support for Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky's compromise proposal for an egalitarian section at the Kotel.

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