Jerusalem Court Releases Women Detained at Western Wall

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The five women who were detained by Jerusalem Police on Thursday for wearing tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries) at the Western Wall were released after several hours of questioning.

An ultra-Orthodox man was also detained in the incident, which occurred during the monthly Women of the Wall prayer service at Judaism's holiest site.

The women were brought to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court in the Russian Compound before their release, but managed to evade restraining orders that would have prevented them from accessing the site for three months.

Such restraining orders have been issued in the past - though rarely - against members of the Women of the Wall, an activist groups advocating gender equality at the Western Wall.

Jerusalem Magistrate Court Judge Sharon Bavli-Larry noted in her decision to release the women that it was not they who incited clashes that morning, but rather an ultra-Orthodox woman.

"Indeed, it is correct that Women of Wall worshipers are seen in the footage approaching another worshipper, but I cannot ignore the fact that that other worshipper is standing purposely with her back to them holding an umbrella upon which are written slogan against Women of the Wall. Under these circumstances, it is not the Women of the Wall who started the provocation," wrote the judge in her decision

About 150 gathered for the monthly Rosh Chodesh prayer service during the morning, some of them wearing tallitot and tefillin. Fifteen minutes into the start of the morning prayer, Jerusalem Police detained five active members of Women of the Wall, for violating recently enforced prohibitions against wearing prayer shawls at the plaza.

Many women wearing tallitot were not arrested however, sparking speculation that police had no choice but to take action after they warned at a press conference earlier this week that they had every intention of enforcing the law governing prayer at the wall vigilantly.

The clampdown came two days after Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky announced his recommendations for a compromise agreement that would eventually wrest exclusive control of prayer at the wall from the Orthodox.

Police initially thought the Haredi man detained this morning had set alight a special siddur (prayer book) that the group Women of the Wall use at their monthly, Rosh Chodesh service, but later said that it turned out to be a Mormon pamphlet. Throughout the prayer service, a group of Haredi men heckled the women, shouting from the men’s section: “With our bodies, we will defend the Kotel. Reform Jews, get of here.”

Among the women detained was Lesley Sachs, director of Women of the Wall, and Bonnie Ras, assistant director of communications for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Also detained were Silvie Rosenbaum, Sharona Kramer and Rabbi Valery Stessi, who was the first Conservative rabbi to be ordained in Israel, and the head of the Maayanot congregation in Jerusalem. They are all Israeli citizens.

Two Meretz Knesset members, Michal Rosin and Tamar Zandberg joined the Women of the Wall prayer service on Thursday morning. They, too, donned tallitot, but because they enjoy parliamentary immunity, they cannot be arrested. Both Rosin and Zandberg accompanied the detained women to the police station and spent about a half hour with them there.

The Western Wall plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem, where a proposed office building and museum will be smaller than originally planned.Credit: AP

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