An ultra-Orthodox protester was arrested Friday after allegedly attacking the head of Conservative Judaism in Israel, as a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall by a women’s group was marred by scuffles and loud demonstrations.
Yizhar Hess said an ultra-Orthodox minor tore off his prayer shawl and snatched and threw his skullcap to the floor as he attended morning prayers Friday at the holy site in support of the monthly Women of the Wall service.
A female supporter of Women of the Wall said she was also attacked by ultra-Orthodox protesters.
Meanwhile an ultra-Orthodox woman said she was pushed by a supporter of Women of the Wall and had her head covering torn off, and the group was accused of having tried to spirit a Torah scroll into the site by hiding it in a bathroom the night before.
“A bunch of enraged Haredim surrounded me and started pushing, kicking and spitting — and tore my tallit off of me,” Hess told Hebrew-language media. “My kippa was thrown to the ground and trampled on along with the tallit.”
In March, Hess said the same thing happened to him during skirmishes at the holy site.
בית משוגעים פה pic.twitter.com/dFjqX4dvzl
— נשות הכותל (@Neshot_hakotel) August 2, 2019
The confrontations came despite heavy police presence deployed to secure the prayer service. Police have attempted to crack down on violent protests by ultra-Orthodox that have in the past marred the female-led prayers, held on every first day of the Hebrew month.
In a statement, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the site, said it condemned “the provocations by Women of the Wall every month and the sharp violence on the other side.”
The body also accused the group of hiding the Torah scroll in a bathroom, in contravention of Jewish tradition, which generally forbids holy objects from entering bathrooms
Women of the Wall denied hiding the Torah scroll in a bathroom, and said it had been subjected to “hatred and violence.”
“Thousands of young men and women opposed us with screaming, pushing, hitting and serious interruptions of our prayer,” the group wrote on Facebook.
Responding to the brouhaha, Labor Party leader Amir Peretz condemned the violence, which he said was the work of extremist Jews supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The whole world is looking at the holiest place for Jews, the Western Wall, and is embarrassed by the hands-off approach to extremists who are hijacking Judaism.”
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was also critical. “What we saw this morning at the Western Wall cannot continue,” he said.
The progressive Women of the Wall group has for years pushed for greater freedom of prayer for women at the main Western Wall plaza, which is currently administered according to Orthodox traditions that only allow male-led prayers.
The group has rejected a government-built secondary plaza meant to house pluralistic prayer services unless changes are made to it.