Women of the Wall, a group of women fighting for freedom of worship at the Western Wall, fulfilled a longstanding goal of reading from a full-size Torah scroll at the Western Wall on Monday morning, in violation of regulations at the holy site.
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This is the first time since the group was founded 25 years ago that it has read from one of the full-size public Torah scrolls available at the Kotel. Five years ago, the women read from a Torah scroll that had been donated to them privately but have been banned from doing so since.
As the dramatic development was underway, reports circulated that Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz asked police at the site to intervene and remove the Torah scroll from the women’s section.
A group of male supporters of the feminist prayer group, which holds a monthly Rosh Hodesh service at the Western Wall, opened a gap in the barrier separating the men’s and women’s prayer sections at the holy site and passed the Torah scroll over to representatives of the women’s group.
While the women were reading from the Torah, a group of ultra-Orthodox men began physically attacking the male supporters of Women of the Wall, according to eyewitnesses, and then proceeded to enter the women’s section where they attempted to grab the Torah scroll. They did not succeed, and police intervened, pushing them away.
After the women concluded the Torah reading service, they began dancing in the women’s section with the scroll.
For years, Women of the Wall has been demanding the right to read from a Torah scroll in the women’s section. The Orthodox authorities in charge of prayer regulations at the Jewish holy site have refused to oblige them on the grounds that women reading from a Torah scroll violates “local custom.”
Last year, the women’s prayer group snuck in a miniature Torah scroll, a family heirloom that had been donated by a couple from London. On numerous occasions, members of the group have tried to sneak in a Torah scroll under their coats or in duffel bags, but have been stopped by security guards at the entrance to the Western Wall.
A spokeswoman for Women of the Wall said the plan to read from a Torah scroll on Monday had been in the making for quite a while.
Later on Monday, an American immigrant who delivered the Torah scroll from the men’s section of the Western Wall to members of the feminist prayer group was detained by police.
Charlie Kalech, a 48-year-old computer analyst, was taken in for questioning by police after he reported being assaulted by an usher at the Western Wall when he handed the Torah scroll to the woman through a gap in the barrier separating the men’s and women’s sections at the Jewish holy site.
According to Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, Kalech was injured after he was struck by an usher.
“This usher was an employee of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which is run by Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Kotel,” she told Haaretz. “After he was struck, he fell to the ground and hit his head. We escorted him to the police station, and when he explained the circumstances of his injury, he was told by police that he was being detained for breaking the law.”
According to Hoffman, Kalech’s phone was confiscated by police.
The 48-year-old Jerusalemite was given leave to seek medical attention but was instructed to return to the police station at 4 P.M. this afternoon to resume his questioning.
Reflecting on the morning's prayer from one of the Kotel Torahs, Hoffman said, “It was a big, big day for us."