Hundreds of people turned out at the Western Wall on Sunday morning to mark the first day of the Jewish month of Tamuz.
Some 300 members of the Women of the Wall and their supporters were at the site utilizing, for the second time, the permission granted them by the Jerusalem District Court to pray in the women's section according to their own "custom" - in prayer shawls and tefillin. Facing them were about 200 ultra-Orthodox protesters.
Large numbers of police were on hand to separate the sides and attempt to reduce tensions.
Last Rosh Hodesh - for the month of Sivan - the police allowed the hundreds of women to pray, but tensions were great and spilled over into violence as thousands of ultra-Orthodox men and women came out to disrupt the Women of the Wall's prayer service.
10: 26 A.M. Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch: "The barricaded fortress set up at the Western Wall to allow a small group to practice its custom is not a badge of honor for the Jewish people or for their holy site."
9:48 A.M. Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, said she was pleased the service had concluded peacefully. "They're getting used to us," Hoffman told Haaretz. She was particularly happy that one of the seminary girls who had come to protest the pluralistic women's prayer group last month had joined their ranks this morning. "She stood right next to me," said Hoffman.
Sara Rigler, an American-born orthodox woman who has been living in Jerusalem for 28 years, said she had come to protest Women of the Wall , who sing out loud. "It is against the Torah and if you are in the men's section praying you can't avoid hearing it."
Cindy Donenfeld, an America-born resident of Hadera, said this was her first time participating in the prayer service. "I was very apprehensive because of what happened last month, but that was also the catalyst that brought me here," she said.
Adv. Yizhar Hess, executive director of Conservative Movement said that only a few hundred ultra-Orthodox students heeded the calls by rabbis to protest the prayer. "The Haredi show of force failed because when there is no captive audience – seminary girls and yeshiva boys -- just those for whom Kotel is dear, the truth comes out."
Gilad Kariv, head of Israel's Reform Movement, said that the absence of major disturbances at the service was "further proof that the Kotel can be turned into a place for all communities and streams of Judaism."
8:30 A.M. Women of the Wall conclude prayer service at Kotel. Some ultra-Orthodox protesters threw eggs, but no clashes or arrests.
7:46 A.M. Women of the Wall Executive Director Lesley Sachs: "I'm still very frustrated and sad that this is the way we have to pray. The turning point for us was the Sobel verdict. This is a process and this is another step in it. Hopefully next month it will continue this way," Sachs said. She added that they were notified this past week a new government committee are supposed to draw up recommendations for prayer practices at the Wall.
7:41 A.M. Police deputy spokeswoman Hagit Rappaport says there are about 250 Women of the Wall members and supporters are. Police expected many thousands of protesters, there are only several hundreds. No arrests thus far.
7:28 A.M. A small cluster of elderly Haredi women right on the other side of the barrier, praying very loudly, trying to drown out the Women of the Wall's prayer service. One woman, Miriam Schreiber, who showed up to the last two prayer servicse and is known by police to be a provocateur, is praying extremely loudly, donning a shirt with the message: "This is a desecration of God's name."
7:21 A.M. Police set up a physical barricade to separate between the 300 or so members of Women of the Wall and their supporters, and the ultra-Orthodox protesters. All women wishing to pray with Women of the Wall were escorted into the plaza through a passageway underneath the Mugrhabi bridge. This is the first time the police has cordoned off the female prayers.
7:08 A.M. The thousands of ultra-Orthodox girls from seminaries in Jerusalem who protested Women of the Wall last month after calls from prominent rabbis, did not come out today.
06:26 A.M. - Police convoys escorted hundreds of women from the Liberty Bell parking lot in Jerusalem to the Western Wal Plaza, due to anticipated violence against the group. This is the first time the group has had a police escort. Women of the Wall has asked members and supporters not to travel on their own to the Western Wall, but instead to use the organized transportation with police escort.
In a last-minute decision Women of the Wall agreed not to bring a Torah scroll to the service as they had originally planned. They were notified by police over the weekend that bringing a scroll to the Western Wall was against current regulations. (Judy Maltz)
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