Jerusalem Police Detain Woman at Western Wall for Wearing Prayer Shawl 'Incorrectly'

Deb Houben was taken aside by police after concluding a prayer service celebrating the beginning of the Hebrew month.

Aliyana Traison
Aliyana Traison
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Aliyana Traison
Aliyana Traison

Jerusalem Police detained a woman for nearly four hours on Thursday for wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl, "incorrectly" at the Western Wall.

Deb Houben, a native of Boston, was taken aside by police after concluding a prayer service celebrating the beginning of the Hebrew month with 65 other people from Women of the Wall, an organization that campaigns for the equal right to pray publicly at Judaism's most holy site.

Many of the women participating in the service were also wearing prayer shawls, but Houben was detained for wearing hers "incorrectly" – meaning wrapped around her shoulders, rather than draped across her neck like a scarf.

Houben said that police officers approached her during the prayer session and told her to readjust the shawl, to which she complied.

Following the prayer session, as the women made their way through security down to Robinson's Arch to read from the Torah, she put the prayer shawl back around her shoulders, at which point police pulled her back through the security gate and detained her for disturbing the peace.

"I was wearing it incorrectly. I was wearing my tallit like a tallit, not like a scarf," said Houben. At no point was she told to remove the shawl completely, she said.
Houben was released with a 7-day restraining order from the Western Wall.

"The kotel belongs to everyone," Houben told Haaretz. "I understand that I might have incited a riot, but I think there's a greater issue at stake here. Why is it always the women? Because they're going to incite something by their very being."

Women of the Wall have been gathering at the holy site at the beginning of every new month since 1988, when an international group of Orthodox Jewish women decided to hold a public prayer service there.

The services are held according to Orthodox practice, meaning they do not read the sections that require the presence of a minyan (10 men). They do read out loud from the Torah, but away from the wall itself, and many of the women wear prayer shawls. The group says the only of its practices that should be seen as controversial in terms of Jewish law is 'kol isha', which forbids men from hearing the sound of a single woman singing.

The prayer sessions have garnered fierce opposition from other worshipers, culminating in physical or verbal violence on occasion, and members of the group have been arrested in the past for various infractions.

The leader of the group, Anat Hoffman, was arrested in 2010 for carrying a torah scroll around the compound. In 2009, another member of the group was arrested for wearing a prayer shawl.

Jerusalem Police released a statement in the wake of the event, saying that Houben was detained after she entered the Western Wall area dressed in violation of regulations.

Oz Rosenberg contributed to this report.

Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the Women of the Wall organization, holds on to a Torah scroll as Israeli police attempt to take it from her and detain her, outside the Western Wall in 2010.Credit: AP



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