Members of the Women of the Wall group were denied entry to the Western Wall Thursday morning after refusing to submit to body searches as a condition for entering the site. The searches were ordered despite a recent High Court of Justice ruling that prohibits them.
The organization, which advocates for egalitarian prayer at the holy site, said in a statement Wednesday that it would hold prayers at the Western Wall Thursday morning to commemorate the anniversary of the Western Wall agreement, a compromise that set aside a portion of the Wall known as Robinson’s Arch as an egalitarian prayer space.
The agreement, reached last January, has yet to be implemented and the governing coalition’s ultra-Orthodox Shas party has since proposed legislation that would impose fines and prison terms on any person who violates Orthodox practice at the Western Wall, which would undermine last year’s agreement by outlawing women from reading from the Torah anywhere at the holy site.
In a press release, Women of the Wall said that when they arrived at the Western Wall Thursday morning, they were asked by guards at the entrance to the site to remove their coats and undergo a body search, in violation of the recent Supreme Court ruling banning searches for “contraband.”
Refusing the guard’s request, the group was forced to hold services outside the entrance to the Western Wall and was denied use of the site’s Torah scrolls, which are ostensibly available to the entire public for use.
Western Wall rabbi's ushers refuse to allow our entry without opening our coats! pic.twitter.com/BSOdmHi825
— Women of the Wall (@Womenofthewall) January 19, 2017
The incident was not the first time in recent months that the guards at the Western Wall demanded that women from the group undergo body searches. In December, members and supporters of the group were subjected to body searches as they tried to enter the site and were also disturbed during their monthly prayer service marking the start of the new Jewish month by ultra-Orthodox women at the site who loudly blew whistles.
During the December searches, aimed at preventing the smuggling of Torah scrolls to the women’s section, some women were ordered to remove their coats and scarves and at least one woman was asked to take off her outer garments during a private search, the Haaretz daily reported at the time.