Women of the Wall Hope to Avoid Showdown at Historic Kotel Prayer Service

Anticipating jeers and leers from ultra-Orthodox protesters during first prayer service after key court decision, group championing fight for equality at Western Wall urge supporters not to engage in conflict - verbal or otherwise.

Anticipating provocations by ultra-Orthodox individuals and groups at their monthly prayer service at the Western Wall on Friday, Women of the Wall have instructed supporters and activists planning to participate in the event not to “engage in conflict – verbal or physical” with any of the protesters.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters have made a practice in recent months of taunting the women as they approach the Western Wall plaza on their way to the women’s section and jeering loudly at them during their prayer service from across the barrier separating the men and women’s sections. The protests are expected to grow even louder tomorrow, following the recent landmark ruling by the Jerusalem District Court that it is not a violation of “local custom” for women to wear prayer shawls at the Western Wall.

As opposed to instructions delivered in previous months, participants in Friday morning’s service have been told to arrive at the Western Wall already wearing their prayers shawls. Until now, police had acted on the assumption that it was a violation of “local custom” for women to wear prayer shawls at the wall, routinely detaining those who engaged in this practice. In a posting on their Facebook page, Women of the Wall said they did not foresee “problems with police” this month.

In past months, Women of the Wall participants and activists made a practice of hiding their prayers shawls in their bags or under their coats when they entered the premises of the holy site, or alternatively, handing them over to male supporters who sneaked them into the prayer area so that they would not be discovered in the women’s bags at the security checkpoint at the entrance to the Western Wall.

An unusually large group of women is expected to participate in tomorrow morning’s event, many joining the service as an act of solidarity with the women’s organization, whose cause has become a rallying point for advocates of Jewish pluralism worldwide. Typically, several hundred women have participated in the service, which is held on the first day of the Jewish month, known as Rosh Chodesh.

This could end up being not only the first but also the last time in the foreseeable future that the women’s prayer group will be able to hold its service without participants being ushered away by police. Earlier this week, it was reported that Minister of Religious Affairs Naftali Bennett plans to present new regulations for Jewish holy places that could restrict the right of Women of the Wall to pray as they see fit in the future.

Several synagogues around the United States have already announced they will be holding special prayers services tomorrow in solidarity with Women of the Wall. 

Michal Fattal
Michal Fattal