Knesset members join Women of the Wall at prayer serviceby ben sales, jta
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Three female Knesset members joined the Women of the Wall for the group’s monthly prayer service March 12 at the Western Wall, marking the new Jewish month of Nissan. No arrests were made.
For the past several months, police have detained members of the women’s prayer group for wearing prayer shawls at the wall, in contravention of the site’s rules. At last month’s service marking the beginning of the Hebrew month of Adar, Jerusalem police arrested 10 women, including the sister and niece of American comedian Sarah Silverman, for disturbing public order.
This time, however, the women were allowed to pray largely undisturbed.
Before entering the site, however, the female lawmakers, as well as several other women, reportedly were stopped by police who demanded that they leave behind their prayer shawls before entering the Western Wall Plaza.
Stav Shaffir of the Labor Party and Tamar Zandberg and Michal Rozin of Meretz used their Knesset immunity to enter the area with their prayer shawls, while other women hid them in bags or under layers of clothing to get them inside the plaza, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“For 24 years, the Women of the Wall have been praying at a site sacred to the Jewish people and for years they have been stopped just because they seek to pray in their own way,” Shaffir wrote on her Facebook page. “This morning, following hate banners in the haredi press, I joined them. At first we were prevented from entering the square on the grounds we were disturbing the order but there is nothing that 100 women armed with a shawl can’t do.”
The rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, condemned the March 12 prayer service in a statement issued to the media. He said the women brought “brothers against brothers in unnecessary confrontation” and noted that the wall next to Robinson’s Arch, just off the main plaza, has been designated as the area for women’s prayer services.
Women of the Wall has held a prayer service at the Wall, known as the Kotel in Hebrew, almost every month for the past two decades. The service is held on Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the new Hebrew month, at the back of the women’s section.
In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or prayer shawls, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Wall.
A spokeswoman for Women of the Wall, Shira Pruce, said she does not expect the group’s success this week to establish a precedent. She surmised that the police didn’t want to arrest the Knesset members or cause a stir just before President Barack Obama’s visit to Jerusalem next week.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed that no arrests were made because of the presence of the Knesset members, whom he noted have certain immunity from arrest or bodily searches.
“We’ll deal with upcoming events with sensitivity,” Rosenfeld pledged.
Meanwhile, supporters in New York, Washington and Cleveland held their own rallies in support of Women of the Wall. At a demonstration March 11 in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, some 125 participants, including children, prayed and sang with guitars and tambourines. The women raised their arms to hold aloft prayer shawls in a show of solidarity with their Israeli counterparts. An embassy spokesman came out to greet them, and said their message would be conveyed to Jerusalem.
“The words ‘A woman was arrested for wearing a tallit’ should not be coming out of Israel,” said Rabbi Esther Lederman of Temple Micah in Washington, who took her year-old son to the protest.
Bay Area supporters of Women of the Wall will gather from 11 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, March 19 outside the Israeli Consulate in downtown San Francisco to sing in Hebrew and English.
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