Jerusalem Police on Guard as ultra-Orthodox Plan Fresh Protests Against Women of the Wall

Women of the Wall to hold monthly prayer service on Sunday, despite failure of Religious Services Ministry to reach regulations on 'local custom' at Western Wall; threatening letters sent to chief rabbinate and Western Wall rabbi warning them to allow women to pray as they choose or face harm.

Jerusalem District Police are preparing for another round of confrontations at the Western Wall next Sunday, as tensions continue to escalate surrounding the Women of the Wall's demand for equal worship at Judaism's holiest site.

Police were also on guard after threatening letters were sent to the Chief Rabbinate and to the rabbi in charge of the Western Wall, warning of physical violence should the women not be allowed to pray as they choose.

The Women of the Wall group has angered ultra-Orthodox Jews by wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries, and reading from holy scriptures at the Western Wall, a revered remnant of the Biblical Jewish Temple.

Haaretz has learned that despite intensive talks in recent weeks to reach a solution to tensions, the government has failed to formulate new regulations determining what should be considered "local custom" at the Western Wall.

Pending these regulations, police are committed to continue respecting a District Court ruling that allows the women to wear prayer shawls and phylacteries and read from the Torah at the holy site, while contending with fierce ultra-Orthodox opposition to these prayers.

Clashes during the last monthly prayer session in May led to violence, including Haredi protesters hurling stones and garbage at the Women of the Wall.

Before that confrontation, sources in Naftali Bennett's Religious Services Ministry, headed by Naftali Bennett, said they foresaw a solution within a month. Now, these same sources hope that new regulations will be formulated by the first day of the Hebrew month of Av, in July.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders are planning a new round of protests against the Women of the Wall and yeshiva students will probably called to join in the demonstrations, said Yossi Deitch, a United Torah Judaism member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council. Thousands of of Haredi schoolgirls came to the Western Wall plaza to protest against the service last month. An original plan to hold a prayer led by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was abandoned due to the latter's health.

Bennett assumed the responsibility of formulating new regulations regarding "local custom" at the request of the Attorney General, following a District Court ruling that the Woman of the Wall were not behaving in an illegal fashion.

Bennett has indeed begun work on a formula that would grant the women a certain amount of ritual freedom in the central plaza until a new area is built, in accordance with Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky's recommendations for solving the dispute.

Sharansky suggested that women be allowed to wear colorful "feminine" prayer shawls, and pray aloud, but not be permitted to don phylacteries or read from the Torah.

Bennett believed that his compromise was gaining momentum, until Justice Minister Tzipi Livni - who is not fully aware of the details of the proposals – accused him of trying to get around the District Court ruling.

The Prime Minister's Office subsequently established a committee led by new cabinet secretary, Avihai Mandelblit and his predecessor Zvi Hauser, and invited the two ministers to join. Bennet is planning to hold another meeting with representatives of the Women of the Wall, but a compromise is unlikely to be reached by Sunday.

The threatening letters sent to the Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis' offices on Sunday warned them to allow the Women of the Wall to pray according to their custom, or "you'll go home with a hundred bodies of Haredim."

The letters, accompanied by a photograph of a gun, warned the rabbis that "your end is near" and that this was the "last warning." The letters included hate speech against Haredim and ended with the sentence "We will no longer restrain ourselves; the Western Wall will be re-liberated."

Similar threats have been received by the Western Wall rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovitch, who is now being protected by security guards.

Women of the Wall denied any involvement in the letters to the rabbi, saying in a statement it was "saddened" by the remarks. "Any reasonable person understands that the Women of the Wall have no hand in the letters, and that the letters' style is inconsistent with the spirit of love of Israel that our group expresses." The Reform Movement also denounced the threats and letters

Last month threatening slogans were daubed on walls near the home of group member Peggy Cidor, one of which admonished her "your time is up."

Reuters