Women of the Wall on Monday held Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall Monday, despite the explicit prohibition by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to do so. Some 120 women participated in the ceremony.
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The police allowed the ceremony to take place and even arrested a heckler, Matti Dan, chairman of the Ateret Cohanim settler group, who was disturbing the ceremony.
"I protested against the debasement and desecration of the holy place and the Jewish religion. The Women of the Wall are holding a fake religious ceremony that isn't a part of the Jewish religion, breaking the law and degrading both it and the traditions of Israel. But instead of arresting them, they arrested me for protesting against them," Dan said. "I promise that next month I won't be the only one to protest. We will bring with us hundreds and thousands of worshipers that will protest against this disgrace and will demand it be stopped."
Dan was released after Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Isaac Pendros interceded on his behalf.
The group also brought a Torah scroll to the Kotel and read from it – something that the Western Wall rabbi and the police prohibited. Another group petitioned the High Court to overturn this decision, but no decision has been issued to date. The police unsuccessfully tried to confiscate the Torah.
Mendelblit's decision states that a female version of the priestly blessing ceremony, which has no precedent, is forbidden in accordance with the protection of holy places, prohibiting prayer among other activities at holy sites that do not adhere to "local customs."
The Women of the Wall group responded saying that "The letter of the Ministry of Religious Services only referred to the Priestly Blessing ceremony during the intermediate days Passover. This isn't the same as holding the Priestly Blessing as part of the Rosh Chodesh (new month) service, a service which is uncontroversial."
Western Wall rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch commented on the incident, characterizing the groups activity as "the brazen disregard for the customs of the place and the traditions of Israel and the feelings of the worshipers." Rabbi Rabinovitch called on Minister of Religious Services David Azulay to issue ordinances that would "prevent the Women of the Wall from using the Kotel as their own, and stop their divisive actions."
Last month, Mendelblit held a meeting on the subject with police officers, prosecutors, the legal adviser of the Religious Services Ministry and Rabinowitz. The latter two opposed permitting the ceremony. It was decided during the meeting that the Ministry of Religious Services would invite Women of the Wall representatives to make their case and voice their concerns in a meeting later Thursday. However, Women of the Wall do not plan to state their case at this time.
In response, Women of the Wall said it did not believe the attorney general’s decision had legal basis but had decided nonetheless to cancel the controversial priestly blessing ceremony for women scheduled for Sunday morning on May 21.
The group said in a statement that it would convene, though, as planned and hold prayer service at the Western Wall, without the addition of the priestly blessing.