Hundreds of Orthodox protesters try to block Women of the Wall service
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Hundreds of Orthodox protesters try to block Women of the Wall service

Police protect progressive Jewish group during its monthly prayer session at Western Wall; one activist decries 'mob of mean black hats'

Ultra Orthodox men protest against the Women of the Wall movement as they hold a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, February 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Ultra Orthodox men protest against the Women of the Wall movement as they hold a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, February 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Progressive Jewish women held a prayer service at the Western Wall on Monday in defiance of hundreds of Orthodox men and women who attempted to disrupt the event.

Several hundred female seminary students, primarily from religious Zionist schools, attempted to block the women, who carried Torah scrolls to pray at the holy site for their monthly service. Many hundreds of male students standing in the men’s section of the plaza attempted to drown out the women’s prayers.

Some 150 women of the Women of the Wall group congregated at the women’s prayer section at the wall to celebrate the beginning of the Jewish month of Adar with prayer, songs and reading from a Torah scroll. One girl also celebrated her bat mitzvah during the service.

Their entrance to the plaza was blocked by a chain of religious women, which police broke up so that the service could take place. Police also erected barriers to protect the Women of the Wall, confining them to a small area and preventing them from praying up against the wall itself.

Members of the Women of the Wall movement hold a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, February 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Members of the Women of the Wall movement hold a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, February 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

While the women’s service was taking place, men in the men’s section of the plaza shouted and cursed them. One man prayed through a microphone, making it difficult for the women to hear their own service.

The women said they were also jostled and verbally abused, with people whistling and yelling at them.

One Women of the Wall activist, Rabbi Susan Silverman, tweeted that they were targeted by a “mob of mean black hats,” adding that “people who ‘know’ God’s will and enforce that in civil law and violence are fascist idolaters.”

Rabbis from the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist communities called on students to come to the Western Wall to protest. They included a former chief rabbi of Jerusalem’s Old City, Avigdor Nebenzahl; the main spiritual adviser to the Shas party, Rabbi Shalom Cohen; Rabbi Haim Druckman, the head of Bnei Akiva yeshivas; and Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu.

The student protesters came from across the country and, after the prayers were completed, attended specially arranged classes in the Jewish Quarter, the religious news site Srugim reported.

Last month a High Court ruling ordered the immediate halt of the practice of searching women on their way into the Western Wall plaza for ritual items such as Torah scrolls, and gave the state 30 days to find “good cause” why a woman may not read aloud from a Torah scroll as part of prayer services at the Western Wall.

Also last month, the Shas party proposed a bill that would define the entire area as a holy site governed under the same definitions of religious practice and law set by Israel’s rabbinic courts and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Prayer services would thus be limited solely to state-approved Orthodox practice.

Members of the Women of the Wall movement hold a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, February 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Members of the Women of the Wall movement hold a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, February 27, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
An ultra-Orthodox woman protests against the Women of the Wall as they hold a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, February 27, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
An ultra-Orthodox woman protests against the Women of the Wall as they hold a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, February 27, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
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