In defiance of regulations enforced by the Western Wall rabbinic authorities, Women of the Wall unsuccessfully attempted to sneak their own Torah scroll into the women’s prayer section Thursday morning.
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They were stopped by security guards at the entrance to the site, just as they were about to begin their monthly prayer service to mark the first day of the Jewish month. The scroll was hidden in a green duffel bag carried by a member of the group and found when it was opened by guards at the security checkpoint. Police were subsequently summoned and notified the women that it was against the law to bring a Torah scroll into the area.
The monthly prayer service held by the multidenominational women’s prayer group was otherwise largely uneventful. Members of an opposition group, known as Women for the Wall, were stopped by police when they began distributing promotional material at the entrance to the Western Wall. Women for the Wall have in recent months been waging a campaign to force Women of the Wall out of the women’s prayer section.
About 150 women participated in the morning prayer service, including several teenagers who won a contest sponsored by the Philadelphia-based Moving Traditions, an organization that promotes Jewish pluralism and gender equality. The contest was inspired by the women’s prayer group and its struggle to pray as it sees fit at the Western Wall.
For the second month running, ultra-Orthodox opponents of Women of the Wall did not come out in force to protest the feminist prayer group. Just a few dozen young seminary girls stood around as supporters of Women of the Wall held their service, and jeered at them.
Ever since the Jerusalem District Court ruled that it was not against “local custom” for women to wear prayer shawls and phylacteries at the Jewish holy site, police have stopped detaining members of Women of the Wall for engaging in these practices.
The district court also ruled that it is not a violation of “local custom” for women to read from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall. The reason they have been prevented from doing so, however, is that the Western Wall rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, prohibits worshippers from bringing their own Torah scrolls to the site. About 300 Torah scrolls are stored in the men’s section at the wall for use during male-led services, but Rabinowitz has not complied with a request from Women of the Wall to make use of one of these scrolls at their own services in the Women’s section. “It is a ‘Catch-22’ situation,” said Lesley Sacks, executive director of the group.