Four women were detained by Israel Police on Friday morning after donning prayer shawls at the Western Wall. The World Union for Progressive Judaism expressed outrage at the arrests and urged the authorities to create a third section of prayer at the site, where women and men could pray together.
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The women arrived with Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women who fight for the right to wear tallitot (shawls ), pray and read from the Torah out loud at the Western Wall.
"How ironic that, as Jews around the world celebrate the victory of spirit over forced assimilation, Jews who want to pray have their rights denied by an ultra-Orthodox hegemony," the Progressive Judaism organization - an international umbrella of the Reform, Liberal, Progressive and Reconstructionist Jewish movements - said in a statement. "We call upon the state to heed its own Supreme Court and find a resolution. Until that happens, Israel still fails to live up to the ideals upon which it was founded, as a haven for Jews everywhere."
The first woman detained on Friday was Women of the Wall board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, who refused to remove her prayer shawl as she entered the Western Wall Plaza. According to other members, she was detained and interrogated even before she approached the holy site, accused of disturbing the public order and of obstructing a police procedure.
The other three women - Rabbi Elyse Frishman of Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, and two 18-year-old women from the U.K. who are participating in an RSY-Netzer gap-year program - were held and interrogated. According to a statement by Women of the Wall, all four refused to sign an admission of disturbing the public peace and were released after three hours.
Rhea Wolfson, the national chair of RSY-Netzer, a youth movement affiliated with the Movement for Reform Judaism in the U.K., posted a statement on the movement's website Friday in support of the young women who were detained.
"While this action was not part of any RSY-Netzer program, RSY-Netzer is proud to see tikkun olam (social action ), Reform Zionism and Reform Judaism in action," Wolfson wrote.
Women of the Wall representatives said they were told by police that a new decree had been issued Friday morning, forbidding women to enter the plaza with Jewish holy articles - tallitot, or prayer shawls, and tefillin, or phylacteries. "This new decree is a clear escalation of the restrictions on women's rights at the Western Wall and has no legal basis, especially in a public space like the plaza," the organization said in a statement.
"The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, led by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and an all-male, all ultra-Orthodox directing board, has been known to issue similar impulsive decrees in the past and to hold the police responsible for enforcing such arbitrary decrees in attempts to limit women from praying freely at the holy site."
The Israel Religious Action Center will soon file a petition with the Supreme Court against the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, according to Einat Hurvitz, director of the center's legal department. "It's supposed to be a government organization but it only represents a very narrow, extremist part of the Jewish people," Hurvitz said.
Women of the Wall holds prayer services at the Western Wall every Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of each Hebrew month. The arrest of its chairwoman, Anat Hoffman, two months ago sparked an outcry around the non-Orthodox Jewish world. Last month, six women were detained at the monthly service.