Leaders of the feminist prayer group Women of the Wall have been banned from the Western Wall next month after praying in an “unauthorized area” of the women’s section on Tuesday.
The group insists its members can pray wherever they wish in the women’s section.
For more than a year now, the group has been asked to hold its monthly prayer service behind metal barricades in a far corner of the women’s prayer section, in order to avoid the almost-inevitable clashes with ultra-Orthodox protesters.
Many women who pray with the group wear prayer shawls and phylacteries, but ultra-Orthodox Jews are vehemently opposed to such practices by women.
At Tuesday’s prayer service to mark the start of the Jewish month of Sivan, Women of the Wall members decided to pray outside the barricades. Responding to warnings from security guards that they might be risking their safety by doing so, leaders of the group said it was the job of the police to protect them.
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During the service, representatives of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation – the Orthodox organization that runs the holy site – approached nine prominent members of the group and notified them they would be banned from praying there next month. They said this was because they had prayed outside the barricades, in defiance of regulations imposed by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
Among the women were the group’s chairwoman, Anat Hoffman, and its executive director, Lesley Sachs. Several Women of the Wall board members were also told they would be denied entry to the holy site next month.
“The attorney general never issued any order that requires us to pray behind the barricade,” Sachs told Haaretz.
Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation offered a different account of events. She said that restraining orders had been issued against the women because, despite earlier warnings, “they caused provocations and disturbed the public order.” She said that by not praying in the barricaded area, Women of the Wall had defied an order from the High Court of Justice.
The spokeswoman also said members of Women of the Wall were “physically and verbally violent.”
“The Western Wall Heritage Foundation is obligated by law to respect the status quo and court directives, and prevent any group from taking the law into its own hands,” she added.
Sachs categorically rejected the accusations of violence. She also said she was unaware of any High Court order that required Women of the Wall to pray inside the barricades.