Women of the Wall were met with violence at the Western Wall on Friday as they tried to enter the plaza holding Torah scrolls, and carried empty Torah mantles to the prayer area.
According to Women of the Wall – a feminist prayer group that holds a monthly prayer session at the site – more than 100 activists and supporters took part in the procession to protest regulations banning them from bringing Torah scrolls into the prayer plaza.
Each Torah mantle had attached to it a sign with the name of the congregation overseas that had donated it. Guards at the entrance to the Western Wall demanded that they remove the signs before entering.
Yochi Rappaport, the executive director of Women of the Wall, was roughed up by guards at the Western Wall after she tried to bring a Torah scroll into the women’s section.
The guards, who are employed by the ultra-Orthodox-run Western Wall Heritage Foundation, pushed her to the ground and tried to pull the Torah out of her arms.
Around 2,000 Orthodox protesters arrived at the scene, as large police forces created a barrier between them and the female worshippers. Security guards from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation attempted to stop worshippers from the group from reaching the site.
Overnight into Friday, Labor lawmaker Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi, agreed to a request from President Isaac Herzog to stay away from the Jewish holy site so as not to provoke ultra-Orthodox legislators, who had announced their intent to confront him should he show up. Kariv had been planning to use his parliamentary immunity to deliver a Torah scroll to Women of the Wall in defiance of regulations imposed by the Haredi authority in charge of the Kotel.
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On Thursday, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu amplified ultra-Orthodox calls to mobilize against the “desecration” of the Western Wall by non-Orthodox Jews, despite past rhetoric promising that the space would remain a place of pluralistic unity rather than division.
Netanyahu, who has 2 million Twitter followers, shared a tweet by lawmaker Arye Dery, the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. In the post, he implored the public to join him and dozens of other lawmakers at the holy site on Friday morning for prayers marking Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the Jewish month.
As prime minister, Netanyahu brokered a deal in 2016 that would have seen the creation of a permanent egalitarian prayer space at the southern expanse of the Western Wall, but scuttled the compromise the following year after facing intense ultra-Orthodox pressure.