Six Day War vets, Women of the Wall scuffle with guards at Western Wall

Pluralistic activists say ex-paratrooper ‘wrestled to the ground’ with Torah scroll at entrance; security later allows Torah reading near gate

Women of the Wall pray with a Torah scroll at their monthly prayer session, October 20, 2017. (Hila Shiloni)
Women of the Wall pray with a Torah scroll at their monthly prayer session, October 20, 2017. (Hila Shiloni)

Supporters of Women of the Wall scuffled with guards at the entrance to the Western Wall complex in Jerusalem Friday as they attempted to bring a Torah scroll for the group’s monthly prayer service into the holy site.

Dozens of men and women, including some former paratroopers who were part of the battalion that liberated the holy site in the 1967 Six Day War, attempted to overcome the plaza regulations which bar entering the site with a Torah scroll.

As guards stepped in to confiscate the Torah scroll and prevent it from entering the site, former IDF battalion commander Micha Eshet “was wrestled to the ground” after he refused to hand it over, the organization said in a statement.

Security guards ultimately allowed the group to bring the Torah scroll into the plaza, roughly 10 meters from the entrance gate, for a reading.

The Torah reading followed after the group held its monthly Rosh Hodesh (new month) prayer service in the women’s section of the Western Wall.

At the Western Wall, the pluralistic worshipers were met by some heckling by ultra-Orthodox protesters, who attempted to disrupt their prayers with shrieks, whistles and curses, according to the organization.

After the service, Eshet said the paratroopers did not conquer the Western Wall solely for the ultra-Orthodox.

“We liberated the wall for both men and women,” he said. “We can’t stand by any longer when the Wall is managed as an ultra-Orthodox synagogue in which Women of the Wall are forbidden to pray according to their custom for 30 years.”

One ultra-Orthodox protester countered, shouting, “What have you got with the Western Wall? God liberated the Wall, not you.”

Another veteran paratrooper threatened to continue the protests until the government fulfilled its promises to build a permanent mixed-gender prayer plaza.

“This is only the beginning. We are here in order to make the government implement the Kotel agreement,” Oded Hon said. “The way the Western Wall is run today doesn’t represent many Israelis, me included.”

There are over 100 Torah scrolls designated for public use at the Western Wall main plaza, though the authorities forbid the scrolls from being brought over to the women’s section.

Former paratrooper Micha Eshet argues with security guards as he attempts to bring a Torah scroll to the Western Wall for the Women of the Wall on October 20, 2017. (Hila Shiloni)

In April 2013, an Israeli court ruling formally acknowledged women’s rights to pray according to their beliefs at the Western Wall, ruling that this does not violate “local custom,” which hitherto had been cited as the foundation of banning some prayer rites women wished to engage in as a group. However, the rabbinic authority at the site nevertheless dictates that Torah scrolls must not enter the women’s section, citing concerns of possible theft.

The Women of the Wall organization, which meets at the Western Wall once a month for prayers, has in the past managed to smuggle a miniature Torah scroll into the site. The feminist group advocates greater equality for women to engage in ritual observances at the Western Wall, including permission to read from and dance with Torah scrolls at the holy site.

An August 31 High Court decision had directed the state to readdress its refusal to implement the January 2016 government decision to build a mixed-gender plaza at the Western Wall, and if not, to examine “whether there is a legal option [for the court] to obligate the state to implement the Western Wall decision.”

In response the government said last month it has no plans to “rethink” its freeze of the decision to create a permanent pluralistic prayer platform at the Western Wall — and that the court cannot compel it to implement the plan.

The decision to freeze the agreement coincided with a High Court deadline for the state to respond to petitions on its failure to implement the agreement and construct the mixed-gender plaza near Robinson’s Arch.

The cabinet’s decision was met with widespread dismay from liberal groups and Diaspora Jews.

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