Head of Conservative movement shoved, harassed

Women of Wall forced to move service amid ‘violent’ ultra-Orthodox protest

Deeming main plaza too dangerous for worshipers after thousands of Haredim disrupt prayers and injure several, progressive group finishes service at egalitarian space

Members of the Women of the Wall prayer group hold prayers as thousands of ultra-Orthodox women protest against them at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Members of the Women of the Wall prayer group hold prayers as thousands of ultra-Orthodox women protest against them at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox protesters “violently” disrupted a Women of the Wall prayer service on Friday morning, forcing the feminist Jewish group to move to an egalitarian side section of the holy site after two of its members were injured, a spokeswoman for the organization said.

The group was holding a special anniversary service, celebrating 30 years since its establishment. Their gathering drew protests from some quarters of the ultra-Orthodox community, with several prominent rabbis calling on students to flock to the Western Wall plaza in order to disrupt the Women of the Wall and demonstrate against the non-Orthodox worship.

A spokeswoman for the progressive group told The Times of Israel that several older members had been shoved to the ground by ultra-Orthodox demonstrators, adding that the protest was far more intense than what they are used to enduring on a monthly basis. Two worshipers later received additional medical treatment, the spokesperson said, without elaborating on the extent of the injuries.

Police said that extremist protesters also clashed with officers dispatched to the holy site to maintain order. One 20-year-old protester was arrested for attempting to assault a policeman, the spokesperson said. The police did not address or confirm violence directed against worshipers.

A statement from the Women of the Wall charged police with “abandoning” them as they endured pushing, shoving and cursing from the ultra-Orthodox men and women at the site.

The head of the Conservative movement in Israel Yizhar Hess tweeted that he was among those assaulted by the ultra-Orthodox protesters, saying his yarmulke and prayer shawl were yanked away from him as demonstrators pushed and shoved him. He was on site to show support for the roughly 800 Women of the Wall worshipers.

“[It was] unpleasant, but whoever thinks that violence will win is mistaken,” Hess said.

“I think that if entry to the Western Wall plaza on Rosh Chodesh [the first day of the Jewish lunar month] is barred to Haredi youths under 30, violence will be prevented in the future,” he tweeted. “Just saying.”

The Women of the Wall statement also criticized the Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch for refusing to sign off on a speaker system, which they requested as the number of expected attendees fit the protocol.

Instead, Women of the Wall said that Rabinovitch allowed for a group in the men’s section to operate their own speaker system, which was used to drown out the progressive service on the other side of the site’s gender divider.

Due to what it described as the violent harassment from ultra-Orthodox protesters, the group said it was forced to leave the main section at the Western Wall and finish its service in the egalitarian foyer at Robinson’s Arch.

“We have been here for 30 years and so we will continue, every month of the year, for good,” said Women of the Wall head Anat Hoffman, who called on the government to implement a currently frozen deal to expand the pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall.

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