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Monday, November 4, 2013

Loud protests as Women of the Wall mark 25th anniversary

The pluralistic prayer group Women of the Wall celebrated its 25th anniversary Monday, with hundreds of women praying at the Western Wall amid whistles and jeers, but no violence, to mark the start of the Jewish month of Kislev.
Some 700 women from throughout Israel participated in the special service on Monday morning, with hundreds of men surrounding them in solidarity.

Police were on hand to keep order for the monthly prayer meeting, which has been the source of tension, and sometimes violence in the past.

Girls affiliated with the Modern Orthodox Bnei Akiva movement joined Haredi Orthodox girls at the Western Wall to protest the prayer service.

Women of the Wall arrive at the Western Wall to pray and read from the Torah at the beginning of each Jewish month, irking some worshipers with their prayer shawls and phylacteries, tefillin, which most Orthodox rabbis maintain should only be donned by men.

Loud whistles and jeers rang out across the Western Wall plaza, centering on a packed women’s section, and an observer said that a few small scuffles broke out, but were quickly broken up.

In recent months, leading Haredi rabbis and activists have mobilized thousands of Haredi girls to pray at the wall during Women of the Wall’s services, at times effectively blocking the group from reaching the wall.

Monday marked the first time that Modern Orthodox schools sent students to participate in the service by the ultra-Orthodox girls.

Women of the Wall spokesperson Shira Pruce told JTA that the move offended several of her group’s members who are affiliated with Bnei Akiva.

“Many women are outraged that an organization that represents them would oppose Women of the Wall,” Pruce said. “They’re not saying the organization should take a side at all, but it’s offensive to many that they would teach their children to protest a women’s prayer at the Kotel.”

Last month, the women’s prayer service coincided with a special prayer session for the health of the ailing Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former chief rabbi and the late spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. Yosef died several days later.

Also last month, Women of the Wall agreed in principle to transfer its monthly prayer services to a newly built egalitarian plaza and withdraw its demand to hold services in the women’s section of the Western Wall.

However, the group stated that it would only do so once all of its 16 conditions were met, among them for funding equal to the traditional prayer sites and the creation of a continuous plaza at the Wall to connect them all.

In August, the government unveiled the new platform for egalitarian prayers, but the group’s chairwoman Anat Hoffman harshly criticized the plan at the time.

“The government of Israel decided as a ‘gift’ for Rosh Hashanah to solve the issue… by building this sunbathing deck,” she accused then, charging that the site “is a way of building a second-rate Wall for second-rate Jews. I refuse to accept it.”

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