3 women arrested while praying at Western Wall in 24 hours

Head of Women of the Wall was held in custody the entire night after trying to pray at the holy site while wearing a prayer shawl – a practice reserved only for men, according to Orthodox Judaism.

3 women arrested while praying at Western Wall in 24 hours
Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall (Nshot Ha-Kotel) arrested at the Western Wall, Old City of Jerusalem (photo: Women of the Wall)

Three members of Women of the Wall (Neshot Hakotel), a group of Jewish women which seeks to conduct prayers and read from Torah at the Western Wall, were arrested by police in the last 24 hours, during the “Rosh Hodesh Heshvan” (new month prayers) at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. The head of the organization, Anat Hoffman, was arrested last night for “disturbing public order,” while trying to pray at the Wall. Director Lesley Sachs and board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun were detained Wednesday morning for the same offense.

Rachel and Lesley were released after a short detention at the police station in the Old City, although Anat Hoffman was taken to the police station at the Russian Compound. She has refused to speak to the police without the presence of an attorney and was held in detention the entire night. At the time of writing, Anat was undergoing interrogation. Other members of the organization held their morning prayer outside the police station; members of Israel Religious Action Center also arrived at the station.

3 women arrested while praying at Western Wall in 24 hours
Lesley Sachs of Women of the Wall being taken by police from the Western Wall, October 17 2012

According to the organization, Women of the Wall “seeks the right for Jewish women from Israel and around the world to conduct prayer services, read from a Torah scroll while wearing prayer shawls, and sing out loud at the Western Wall– Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people hood and sovereignty.” Orthodox Jews believe that only men can wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah. As a result, religious rabbis often try to prevent the women from conducting their prayers at the wall. The police is supportive of the Orthodox approach, and arrests of women have taken place several times.

The Orthodox Rabbinate has legal monopoly in Israel over all religious services for Jews, including the management of the Western Wall.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Reform Movement in Israel responded to the incident, saying that “the arrest of the Women of the Wall by the police is a further reminder of the need to completely alter the relation of state and religion in Israel, and to reverse the Orthodox monopoly. The struggle over the Kotel is a major part in the fight to let women sit in the front of the bus [in lines serving religious communities – N.S.], to sing and to receive equal treatment in the religious courts.”

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