Six women were arrested at the Western Wall on Thursday for wearing prayer shawls during services in a manner that has been disallowed by the site’s management and police. The women said they were arrested while praying for Israel’s southern citizens, who have been suffering from incessant rocket attacks since the launch of Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday afternoon.
After announcing the arrests via Twitter, Women of the Wall stated on Facebook that five women were “taken away” while “praying for peace in the south of Israel.” Later a sixth participant was also detained.
Some 100 women had gathered for prayers on the first day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish year.
The Women of the Wall group has held a special prayer service at the holy site nearly each month for the last 20 years on Rosh Hodesh, or the beginning of new Hebrew month, at the back of the women’s section. Western Wall regulations dictate that women cannot wear tallitot, or prayer shawls, in the same manner as men, as it contravenes the “local custom” as determined by the Wall’s chief rabbi. In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallitot, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.
The arrests took place even before the service began, as women were putting on their tallitot, Women of the Wall said.
“We came to pray, especially today, for the peace of the state,” said director Lesley Sachs, one of the detainees, referring to fighting in Israel’s south between Israel and Hamas.
While many of the women at the service wore tallitot, most wore them in the fashion of a scarf, sidestepping the regulation.
“It’s important for me to support women and men who want to come one hour a month,” said Laura Wharton, another detainee.
The detained members were interrogated by police individually and asked to accept a five-day restraining order keeping them away from the Wall. Many of the women refused to sign on principle, the organization said in a statement.
Lesley Sachs said, “No Jewish woman should be banned from the Kotel for praying in her own way. Not even for a day.”
Women of the Wall activists have been arrested before for their activities. In August, four women were detained for praying with a prayer shawl, and 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.
A 2003 Supreme Court decision prohibited women from wearing prayer shawls or phylacteries, or reading aloud from or holding a Torah scroll, in the main public area of the Western Wall. The same decision provided an alternative location in the nearby archaeological area known as Robinson’s Arch.
On Thursday Operation Pillar of Defense entered its second day as the IDF continued to carry out airstrikes throughout the Gaza strip, targeting Hamas and other terror groups’ infrastructure and rocket launching facilities. The operation was launched in response to continuous rocket fire from Gaza at the south of Israel.
JTA contributed to this report.