Thousands of young seminary girls mobilized by Shas, the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party, filled the women’s prayer section of the Western Wall Friday morning ostensibly to pray for the recuperation of their leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
But hundreds of them, rather than pray, chose to encircle participants in the monthly Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh service and taunt them while the worshippers recited their prayers.
This was in blatant defiance of a plea made the previous day by Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, urging those coming to the holy site to refrain from any confrontations with the women’s prayer group. Rabinovitch said such confrontations were the “greatest desecration of the name of God.”
For the first time in three months, police allowed Women of the Wall to hold their monthly service in the women’s prayer section rather than relegate them to an area much further away. About 200 women participated in the group’s Rosh Chodesh service.
Busloads of young seminary girls from all around the country began pouring into the area at about 6 A.M. The girls were not accompanied by their teachers or any adult supervisors.
During the prayer service, the young seminary girls were overheard shouting the following at participants in the Women of the Wall prayer service:
“You are garbage.”
“You are wicked.”
“You are men, not women. Why don’t you grow beards and move over to the men’s section?”
“You should burn.”
One young girl was overheard suggesting to a friend: “Let’s stone them.”
Many of the young girls stood on chairs, laughing and pointing in the direction of the women’s prayer group throughout the service. Whenever Women of the Wall participants would begin singing their prayers out loud, the young girls would shout and jeer in an effort to drown them out.
Several older ultra-Orthodox women were seen approaching the girls and trying to call them to order, warning them that the nearby television cameras were recording their actions. But to no avail.
After Psalms were recited for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, some of the girls left the area, and from the other side of the barrier separating the prayer plaza, began throwing down pieces of toilet paper at Women of the Wall participants and spitting on them.
No arrests were made at the morning’s service, police said, who estimated that somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 seminary girls had showed up.
One ultra-Orthodox woman passing by the Women of the Wall group was overheard telling a friend. “Just look at them. They’re not Jewish. Those aren’t Jewish faces. They’re goyim [non-Jews].”
Several participants in the Women of the Wall service put on tefillin and many wore prayer shawls. “My children asked me to take a picture of this because they really don’t believe that there are women who actually do this,” said one ultra-Orthodox woman, among many like her standing around and photographing the women’s prayer group.
About a dozen policewomen formed a chain around the women to protect them from the jeering crowd. “You don’t need to do that,” one ultra-Orthodox woman told them as she exited the site. “Who would even want to touch them? They’re impure.”
Though repeatedly asked, the young seminary girls refused to tell reporters which school they came from. When asked why she had decided to defy Rabinovitch’s request not to confront Women of the Wall, one young girl, who asked not to be identified, said: “I never heard he said any such thing. If I had heard such a thing, I would have respected it.”
This was the first Rosh Chodesh service held by Women of the Wall at the Kotel since Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett constructed a new platform on the other side of the Mughrabi Bridge meant to accommodate egalitarian prayer services. Bennett had hoped that the women’s prayer group would use the new platform as well for its monthly services, but its leaders have said they have no intention of doing so and will continue to hold their monthly prayer services, as they have in the past, at the women’s section of the wall.
A committee headed by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit is expected to present to the government any day now recommendations for new rules governing prayer at the wall. Jerusalem District Police Spokeman Shmulik Ben Rubi told Haaretz he was hopeful that once the new rules took effect, the confrontations of recent months could be avoided.
Lesley Sacks, the executive director of Women of the Wall, said the morning’s events were the worst she remembered. “I don’t recall that we were ever cursed like this before or that the hatred toward us was ever so blatant,” she told Haaretz.