Tensions are running high on 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. Police deny Women of the Wall and their supporters entry to the women's prayer section, citing security concerns.
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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.
Two months ago, thousands of young seminary girls came to the Kotel in an effort to disrupt the Women of the Wall service. 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.
08:19 A.M. Police spokesman Shmulik Ben Ruby said two people have been detained at the Kotel. One is a young ultra-Orthodox male who threw a bottle at the women's prayer group, and one Haredi woman who tried to block the women's prayer group members from coming into the Kotel area. He called the atmosphere "charged" and said the reason that Women of the Wall and their supporters were prohibited from entering the women's prayer space was that "between 5,000 and 7,000 young seminary women were on the site and had taken it over." He reported one incident of stone throwing at the women.
8:14 A.M. Haredim protesters are now starting to throw eggs over the women's section and they just charged at a man, who had to be ripped out of their hands by police. He was praying with Women of the Wall and wearing a kippa and had peyot. Police had to tear him away from protesters because they were beating him up.
Rabbi Sari Laufer from Rodeph Sholom, a reform synagogue in New York, is six months pregnant and was just hit by an egg in her neck. She said "it is so profoundly sad that this is happening on Rosh Chodesh Av."
8:07 A.M. There are conflicting reports about just how full the women's prayer section is, although police cited this as the reason for denying Women of the Wall access to the Western Wall. Eyewitnesses said it was full but not overly crowded and that there was more than enough space available to accommodate the women's prayer group.
Leaders of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism said police operated in collaboration with Haredim and against district court ruling to not allow Women of the Wall near the Kotel. They have threatened to challenge the police decision to bar the area in court.
Lesley Sachs, the executive director of Women of the Wall, said she was "livid." She added that at least 350 people participated in their service this morning.
7:41 A.M. A Jerusalem police spokeswoman said the deputy police chief issued an order barring Women of the Wall and their supporters from entering the prayer area because of huge crowds present at the Western Wall Plaza.
She said between 5,000 and 7,000 young ultra-Orthodox women had already occupied the space. The young women had been instructed on Sunday by their rabbinical leaders to show up in great numbers to protest the pluralistic women's prayer group.
Another approximately 1,000 ultra-Orthodox men are standing on the other side of the barricade set up by police and jeering the Women of the Wall and their supporters as they hold their prayer service together.
The police spokeswoman estimated that between 200 and 250 people were participating in this egalitarian prayer service.
7:21 A.M. Women of the Wall holding egalitarian prayer service together with male supporters outside women's prayer section of the Western Wall because denied access by police.
Ultra-Orthodox trying to drown out their prayers with whistles and shouting.
7:15 A.M. Police not allowing Women of the Wall and their supporters to enter women's section of the Kotel, citing security concerns. They say the prayer area is too full.
This is the first time since the group began holding its monthly prayer service here nearly 25 years ago that they have been blocked from entering the women's prayer area.
7:00 A.M. Women of the Wall not allowed into the women's section of the Western Wall Plaza. Police have set up barricades. There is a large contingent of Haredi men singing loudly in an effort to drown out the women's singing.