Woman strips down to swimsuit at Western Wall in apparent protest of modesty bill

Demonstrator detained by police, taken to station for questioning; chief rabbi of site decries ‘despicable act of provocation’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A woman strips down to a bathing suit at the Western Wall in an apparent protest on February 12, 2023. (Social media: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A woman strips down to a bathing suit at the Western Wall in an apparent protest on February 12, 2023. (Social media: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A woman stripped down to a bathing suit at the Western Wall on Sunday morning in an apparent protest of a contentious bill that would criminalize immodest dress at the holy site.

The woman was detained by police and taken to a nearby station for questioning. She could face charges of “insult to religion,” which carry a possible sentence of up to three years in prison.

The woman, whose name has not been released, entered the women’s section of the Western Wall, where she disrobed, remaining in a two-piece bathing suit and sneakers. After a few moments, police arrived and detained her.

Police said she was a 35-year-old resident of central Jerusalem and was detained “on the suspicion that she stripped off her clothes in a holy place deliberately.”

Under Israeli law, “insult to religion” is a criminal offense, defined as someone who “destroys, damages or defames a place of worship or any object considered holy to a group of people, with the intention of degrading religion or with the knowledge that their action would be seen as insulting religion. Their punishment — three years in prison.”

The chief rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, decried her actions.

“We are horrified by the despicable act of provocation this morning at the Western Wall Plaza, which desecrated the holiness of the site and deeply offended the public and worshipers,” Rabinovitch said in a statement. “The Western Wall is a sacred site for every Jew and Jewess. It is not a place for dispute or provocation of any kind.”

The woman evidently planned her protest well in advance. Activist-photographer Oren Ziv was apparently tipped off about her intentions and accompanied her to the Western Wall, filming the scene as it unfolded from the main plaza with a telephoto lens.

Her strip protest appeared to be in response to a recent bill proposed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party that would make it a criminal offense, punishable up to six months in prison or a NIS 10,000 ($2,900) fine, to dress immodestly at the Western Wall or to pray there in a manner not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.

The proposal met immediate, fierce criticism, including from within the coalition, and was quickly shelved, though similar proposals are likely to appear again in the future.

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