Some 80 women held a reading of the Book, or “Megillah,” of Esther at the Western Wall Monday morning, convening at the holy site for the first time since a number of members were arrested earlier this month for breaking a dress code.
No disturbances or arrests were reported as the Women of the Wall group conducted the reading in celebration of Purim.
For the past 20 years, the group has been holding special prayer services at the site, one of the holiest to Judaism, on Rosh Hodesh — the start of the 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” 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.
Nevertheless, the Women of the Wall campaigns for equal access for all Jewish denominations and practices at the Western Wall.
Many women have been detained, and even fined, in the past for violating the regulations.
Two weeks ago, 10 women were detained when they gathered for a prayer service to bring in the Hebrew month of Adar. Among those held was Rabbi Susan Silverman, a Reform rabbi and sister of US comedienne Sarah Silverman.
On Monday, some of the women did wear prayer shawls, while several others were in costume, as is traditional on Purim. One of the women detained earlier this month, Hallel Silverman, the teenage daughter of Susan Silverman, came dressed as a prisoner. Other women were dressed as police and ultra-Orthodox men.
The arrests in mid-February were 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.”
Purim is one of the Jewish festivals in which women are revered as the heroes of the story. According to tradition, the holiday marks the salvation of the Jews of ancient Persia. Haman, the royal adviser in the Old Testament Book of Esther, was hanged along with his 10 sons after his plan to slaughter the Persian Jewish community was miraculously foiled by the Jewish Queen Esther.
Gabe Fisher contributed to this report.