Ten women were arrested Monday morning at the Western Wall for wearing prayer shawls, part of a group of activists from the Women of the Wall organization and supporters who came to the site to pray for the Jewish new month of Adar.
Among the women detained were US and Canadian citizens, including Rabbi Susan Silverman, a Reform rabbi and sister of US comedienne Sarah Silverman.
At first, unlike previous prayer sessions, the service appeared to be largely uneventful. The Women of the Wall members were accompanied by a group of supporters, including six IDF veterans who participated in Israel’s 1967 liberation of the Western Wall from Jordanian control during the Six-Day Wars, Haaretz reported, bringing the total participant count to “several hundred.”
The police waited until the IDF veterans and most of the supporters and media had dispersed before making the arrests.
“Women pray at the Western Wall wrapped in prayer shawls – tallitot as the police look on. No arrests, no disturbances of the public order!” the Women of the Wall reported on Twitter.
However, the next post read, “As we exited the Western Wall plaza after a peaceful prayer, 10 women were detained by police while wearing tallitot.”
Western Wall regulations dictate that women cannot wear tallitot, or prayer shawls, in the same manner as men, as it contravenes the “local custom” determined by the Wall’s chief rabbi. In 2003, the High Court of Justice upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallitot, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.
The same decision provided an alternative location in the nearby archaeological site known as Robinson’s Arch, which the Women of the Wall deem inadequate.
The Women of the Wall is an activist group that works for equal access for all Jewish denominations and practices at the Western Wall, and says it has held a special prayer service there nearly each month for the last 20 years on Rosh Hodesh, the start of the Hebrew month, at the back of the women’s section.
The Monday arrests are just the latest round in an ongoing struggle at the Wall. In November, six women were arrested for praying with a prayer shawl, and in August, four women were detained for the same reason. Women of the Wall head Anat Hoffman was arrested in 2010 and fined NIS 5,000 for holding a Torah scroll in the Western Wall plaza.
In a recent Times of Israel interview, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he has tried to mediate between the Women of the Wall and the authorities, “but with the understanding that the Western Wall has to be managed in an Orthodox way. That’s the status quo, for better and for worse.”
Mitch Ginsburg and JTA contributed to this report.