Woman barred from Western Wall for wearing skullcap
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Woman barred from Western Wall for wearing skullcap

Guards demand to know who ‘authorized’ Jewish-American yeshiva student to wear religious headgear at holy site

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A Women of the Wall member dons a kippa and tefillin, Jewish ritual garb traditionally reserved for men (Flash90)
A Women of the Wall member dons a kippa and tefillin, Jewish ritual garb traditionally reserved for men (Flash90)

An American-Jewish woman Monday was barred from entering the Western Wall complex because she was wearing a kippa, an Israeli group advocating for greater egalitarian access to Judaism’s holiest site said.

According to Woman of the Wall, the woman named Linda, who is studying at a conservative yeshiva in Jerusalem, was turned away by security guards and custodians from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, who demanded to know who “authorized” her to wear the skullcap worn almost exclusively by religiously observant Jewish men.

According to the organization, the guards asked her to go to the nearby police station, and when she refused, she was escorted to a taxi stand outside the complex.

The ultra-Orthodox-dominated Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the main Western Wall plaza, has a long-standing dispute with liberal Jewish groups demanding greater access to Judaism’s holiest site.

In the past, women have been detained for donning prayer shawls usually worn by Jewish men.

In a statement, Women of the Wall said it was “outraged” by the incident and slammed the Foundation for “treating anyone who is not ultra-Orthodox as a suspect and a criminal.” It also criticized the ultra-Orthodox group for ignoring a court ruling that allows nondenominational worship at the Western Wall.

In April 2013, the Jerusalem District Court formally acknowledged women’s rights to pray according to their beliefs at the Western Wall, claiming this didn’t violate “local custom,” which hitherto had been cited as the foundation for banning some prayer rites women wished to engage in as a group.

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Nevertheless, the rabbinic authority at the site has made numerous attempts to block pluralistic worship, sometimes citing security concerns.

Women of the Wall meets at the beginning of each Jewish month for a women’s service at the Western Wall. Many of the women wear prayer shawls and tefillin, and have been lobbying to be allowed to read from the Torah during the service.

The government is currently negotiating with the Israeli Reform and Conservative movements, along with the feminist group, to expand the southern complex of the Western Wall, which is currently used by non-Orthodox groups as a prayer space in place of the site’s main complex, which is officially designated as an Orthodox prayer space.

Last month, at a meeting with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) discussing nondenominational worship at the site, Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay reportedly called Reform Jews “a disaster for the people of Israel.”

Azoulay is one of a number of politicians trying to clamp down on non-Orthodox practices at the Western Wall. Shortly after, ultra-Orthodox MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn the Women of the Wall prayer service, asserting the Jewish worshipers are “no less dangerous” than the arsonists who torched a church in northern Israel earlier in the month.

While serving as the religious affairs minister during the last Netanyahu government, Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) agreed to a plan to establish an egalitarian section in an area adjacent to the Western Wall plaza known as Robinson’s Arch. The plan was formulated by cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to resolve religious conflict at the site.

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