Security guards tried to prevent several dozen Israeli army veterans of the 1967 Six-Day War from entering the Western Wall on Friday morning after suspicions arose that they were trying to smuggle in Torah scrolls that could be used by Women of the Wall, the feminist prayer group, during its monthly service. The army veterans forced their way through, though, but not before the Torah scrolls they were carrying were confiscated.
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Micha Eshet, a former battalion commander in the paratrooper brigade, was shoved to the ground by the guards who pulled the Torah scroll he was carrying out of his hands. Eshet, like the other war veterans, had fought in the landmark battle in which Israel took control of the Western Wall 50 years ago. The guards confiscated a second Torah scroll that another one of the former paratroopers had tried to sneak into the premises.
The guards at the Jewish holy site are all employed by the ultra-Orthodox-run Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the site. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation prohibits worshippers from bringing their own Torah scrolls to the site and has several dozen available for use in the men’s section. It does not permit women, however, from gaining access to them.
After the Torah scrolls were confiscated, the former paratroopers – all in their seventies – joined Women of the Wall for a mixed-gender prayer service outside the women’s section of the wall. A relatively large crowd of 300 men and women participated in the service marking the beginning of the Jewish month of Cheshvan.
The Six-Day War veterans have emerged in recent years as key supporters of Women of the Wall and their struggle to pray as they see fit at the Western Wall.
Several ultra-Orthodox women tried to disrupt the Women of the Wall service on Friday morning, as they do every month, by shrieking and blowing whistles. For the first time, though, guards and the site intervened to stop them.
Last month, Women of the Wall petitioned the Supreme Court, demanding that security staff at the Western Wall prevent these monthly disruptions and protect the worshippers. In response, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor asked the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to present her with a report by the end of this month about how such disruptions have been handled since.
The Supreme Court is still deliberating a petition submitted by Women of the Wall, along with the Reform and Conservative movements, demanding that the government fulfill its commitment to build them a special space at the Western Wall for mixed-gender prayer services. In June, the government voted to suspend the plan, which had been approved in January 2016.