Three female MKs — Stav Shaffir (Labor), Michal Rozin (Meretz) and Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) — joined the Women of the Wall group for their monthly Rosh Hodesh (new moon) prayer group at the Western Wall on Tuesday morning.
Shaffir, Rozin and Zandberg were initially denied access to the site because they were wearing prayer shawls, according to tweets from Women of the Wall, but used their parliamentary immunity as MKs to enter with the shawls on.
Unlike at many previous Women of the Wall visits, no arrests were reported, although large crowds of ultra-Orthodox men and women protested the service and attempted to drown it out.
“I usually do not wear a tallit, but it is my honor and duty to stand here and protect the rights of all Jews from around the world to pray as they desire and believe,” Shaffir said later in the morning. “For over 24 years, the Women of the Wall pray every Rosh Hodesh at the Western Wall. For years they have been harassed and arrested because they choose to pray as women there. This morning, after a week of threats in the Orthodox media, I joined them. At first the police tried to block our entrance claiming we would disturb the peace. But there is nothing that one hundred women armed with tallitot cannot accomplish.”
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 (phylacteries) or tallitot or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.
According to Women of the Wall, Jerusalem police said Sunday that female activists attempting to bring such ritual items into the Western Wall plaza would have them confiscated and then returned after the prayers.
Likud MK Miri Regev castigated the Women of the Wall, accusing them of “contemptible behavior that seeks to damage the Holy of Holies and the feelings of the Jewish people and the Israeli public.”
“This provocation by Knesset members Shaffir and Zandberg undermines the symbols of government,” Regev added. “Anarchist activity has become the national sport among the Israeli extreme left.”
Over the past several years, police have repeatedly arrested activists at the Western Wall who contravened the restrictions. According to Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman, it was the first time in nearly two years that MKs joined the prayer service, and it was their presence that prevented arrests.
Last month, 10 women were arrested at the Wall including Rabbi Susan Silverman, sister of US comedienne Sarah Silverman, and her daughter Hallel. International attention turned on the incident when Silverman praised her relatives’ actions to her 4 million followers on Twitter.
On Sunday, Hoffman lodged a complaint with Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovich and Police Chief Yohanan Danino over a series of posters which appeared in ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhoods calling for a protest against “the desecration of the Western Wall, and the sacrilege at the hands of the Women of the Wall.”
Hoffman said that such a call could encourage people to prevent the so-called sacrilege by harming members of the group.
“The fact that in the 21st century, Jewish women in Israel are arrested because of their desire to pray at Judaism’s holiest site, while Haredi extremists are roaming free distributing such posters, is absurd and it requires taking immediate steps,” wrote Hoffman in her letter to Aharonovich and Danino.