Women praying during a Selichot service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Women praying during a Selichot service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo by Michal Fattal
Text size

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the Jewish Agency to find a solution for non-Orthodox Jewish female groups wishing to pray at one of Judaism's holiest sites.

An official said Tuesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, to look into the matter. The official spoke anonymously according to government regulations.

Last week Israeli police detained women from a liberal Jewish group who approached the Western Wall in Jerusalem carrying prayer shawls. Orthodox Jews insist those are for men only. The women seek to worship at the site without such restrictions.

Jewish Agency spokesman Benjamin Rutland said Netanyahu told Sharansky that the Western Wall "must remain a source of Jewish unity rather than division."

The women arrested on Friday arrived with Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women who fight for the right to wear tallitot (shawls ), pray and read from the Torah out loud at the Western Wall.

"How ironic that, as Jews around the world celebrate the victory of spirit over forced assimilation, Jews who want to pray have their rights denied by an ultra-Orthodox hegemony," the Progressive Judaism organization - an international umbrella of the Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist Jewish movements - said in a statement. "We call upon the state to heed its own Supreme Court and find a resolution. Until that happens, Israel still fails to live up to the ideals upon which it was founded, as a haven for Jews everywhere."

The first woman detained on Friday included Women of the Wall board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, who refused to remove her prayer shawl as she entered the Western Wall Plaza. According to other members, she was detained and interrogated even before she approached the holy site, accused of disturbing the public order and of obstructing a police procedure.

The other three women - Rabbi Elyse Frishman of Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, and two 18-year-old women from the U.K. who are participating in an RSY-Netzer gap-year program - were held and interrogated. According to a statement by Women of the Wall, all four refused to sign an admission of disturbing the public peace and were released after three hours.