Tensions are running high ahead of Monday morning’s Rosh Chodesh prayers at the Western Wall, as leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis have called on young seminary women to come out in large numbers to protest the monthly service held by Women of the Wall, a pluralistic prayer group.
Since the seminaries are currently on summer breaks, special arrangements are to be made to transport the young women to the Western Wall. The rabbis instructed them to arrive at the Kotel at 6:30 A.M., a half hour before the scheduled start of the Women of the Wall prayer service.
According to the Haredi portal Kikar Hashabat, the call was put out by Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the leader of the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) branch of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community. It said he had the support of other prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis.
Two months ago, thousands of young seminary girls came to the Kotel in an effort to disrupt the Women of the Wall service. The plaza area became a scene of violence then when ultra-Orthodox young men began hurling chairs and water bottles at members of the women’s activist group, and later, rocks at the bus that delivered them from the scene. Last month, only a few dozen ultra-Orthodox female protestors showed up at the wall, and security was especially high with physical barriers erected to distance ultra-Orthodox protestors from Women of the Wall.
The ultra-Orthodox object to the women wearing prayer shawls and tefillin when they pray as well as to their singing out loud. A Jerusalem District Court ruling, handed down several months ago, found that these practices are not a violation of “local custom,” and therefore, police have refrained in recent months from arresting members of Women of the Wall who engage in them.
The Jewish Federations of North America on Sunday issued a call for unity ahead of the anticipated showdown. “In the spirit of Jewish unity we call for respect for our fellow Jews, even for those with whom we have differences,” it said in a statement.
“With the approach of Rosh Hodesh Av, we ask that our actions and utterances, public and private, be guided by sensitivity to the needs of the other and by appreciation for the sincerity of the motives of those with whom we disagree."