Police arrest female activist after donning prayer shawl at Western Wall
Police arrested a woman praying at Jerusalem's Western Wall yesterday for wearing a prayer shawl.
Tour guides have complained recently that increasingly fundamentalist practices were being enforced at the wall and said that ultra-Orthodox harassment is ruining the experience for tourists and other visitors.
The woman was visiting the wall with some 20 members of the religious group Women of the Wall, which has been holding a Rosh Hodesh prayer for the new month at the Western Wall for the past 21 years.
Police, who were called in when the women took out their Torah scroll in the main wall plaza, not in the women's section, detained Nofrat Frenkel of the Conservative Movement for two and a half hours and had her sign a statement saying she would not go near the wall for the next 15 days.
Tour guides at a meeting of the "Jerusalemites" movement yesterday complained of harassment of tourists at the Western Wall.
Movement head Rachel Azaria, a Jerusalem city council member, blamed Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz for the growing fundamentalist rules imposed at the wall, where women are ordered to cover up themselves and men are pounced on by Chabad activists.
Veteran tour guide Yoni Shapira said he took a famous visiting businessman and his wife to the wall last weekend.
"A woman swooped down on the wife and asked her to cover her head, then demanded to know if she was Jewish. When she didn't answer, she was pushed away from the wall. Ultra-Orthodox men jumped on the husband and when he refused their demands they asked him if he had been circumcised," he said.
"A family I came with had to split up because of the partitions put up in the plaza separating men from women," said guide Eran Zidkiyahu. "Women swooped on the 12-year-old daughter and started wrapping her up. I had to apologize to her father, who couldn't understand why his daughter was being covered up. The whole symbolic, national value of visiting the wall has been lost," he said.
"There is no doubt that every group entering the wall plaza leaves with a very negative impression," said Itai Kapsuto, who works with Jewish youth groups from abroad. "The Western Wall experience is almost always spoiled."
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said the act was a provocation meant to turn the wall into a fighting ground.
Women of the wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman said that this is the first time that a woman has been arrested because she wrapped herself in a tallit and read from the Torah.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, associate director of Israel's Reform movement, said that all over the world women are entitled to wear the tallit, and only in the land of the Jews are they excluded from the social custom and even arrested for praying.
"Israeli police should be ashamed of themselves," Kariv said.