Women of the Wall Barred From Praying at Kotel Again, in Last Minute Decision

Citing overcrowding at women's section, Israel Police relegate Women of the Wall to the rear of the Western Wall Plaza, despite committing last week to escort them directly to the wall in accordance with court decision.

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Women of the Wall and their supporters who came to the Kotel on Monday for the monthly Rosh Chodesh service were relegated to pray in an area away from the wall rather than in the women's section as Israel Police had promised them last week.

The decision was made at the last minute, police said, because by the time the group had arrived "the women's section was full." The service continued otherwise as planned, with no serious confrontations from opponents.

The Jerusalem District Court ruled several months ago that contrary to police interpretations of the law, Women of the Wall are not in violation of “local custom” when they wear prayer shawls and put on tefillin at the Kotel. The ruling was considered a major victory for supporters of the women’s organization, who have been waging a battle to pray as they see fit at the holy site.

LIVE BLOG:

8:29 A.M.: Women of the Wall supporters blowing shofar at kotel to conclude prayer service.

8:27 A.M.: A group of Women of the Wall supporters is sitting with a torah scroll at entrance to plaza to protest refusal of Kotel rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz to allow them to bring one inside.

8:21 A.M.: Jerusalem police spokesman says no arrests this month but "several whistles confiscated."

Lesley Sachs, director of Women of the Wall tells Haaretz: "Police are not dealing equally with us and the Haredim. The same law that prevents bringing torah scrolls into the Kotel area also prohibits using musical instruments, which is what whistles are. It also prevents holding up signs."

8:15 A.M.: Gabrielle Tercatin from Needham, Mass, celebrates her Bat Mitzvah with the Women of the Wall in Jerusalem. She had her Bat Mitzvah in the U.S. but wanted to do "something meaningful" in Israel.

7:49 A.M.: Police are confronting ultra-Orthodox men provoking Women of the Wall with whistles, and begin forcibly moving them away.

7:40 A.M.: Jerusalem police spokesman Shmulik Ben Rubi tells Haaretz: "Blowing whistles is not against the law or a disturbance of the peace. Therefore, we will not stop it." Spokesman says that although the plan was to allow WOW to pray in women's section today, it was not possible "because by 6:30 A.M. the women's prayer section was full."

Once again this month, responding to calls, thousands of young seminary girls showed up for Rosh Hodesh prayer in order to crowd out Women of the Wall worshippers in response to calls from rabbinic leaders.

7:30 A.M.: Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform movement in Israel: "Police are in cahoots with Haredi thugs. They are watching what's going on and doing absolutely nothing."

7:14 A.M.: Women of the Wall have begun their prayer service. Several hundred women and men holding egalitarian prayer service at far back end of plaza behind police barricades. Ultra-Orthodox men congregating, jeering on other side of the barricades, and using using loud whistles and loudspeakers to drown out the egalitarian service.

7:05 A.M.: Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman says she was just notified by police that the organization's supporters would once again be relegated this month to a place away from women's section for their monthly prayer service, "but closer than last month." She says that because possible clashes were expected this morning between Temple Mount faithful and Muslim worshipers praying at conclusion of Ramadan, the Women of the Wall have decided this month to back down, "but this is the last time."

Women praying at the Wall last month. Credit: Michal Fattal
Gabrielle Tercatin celebrating her Bat Mitzvah.Credit: Allison Kaplan Sommer

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