MKs join hundreds of women praying at Western Wall, defying law

Hundreds of women – including MKs Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Stav Shaffir (Labor) and Michal Rozin (Meretz) –  gathered at Jerusalem’s Western Wall in honor of Rosh Hodesh (first of the Hebrew calendar month, today, Nissan) Tuesday morning. They joined the usual group of women from the Women of the Wall movement, who go every month at 7 a.m. to pray there on the other side of the barricade separating them from the men – but are often harassed and prevented from doing so – and even at times, arrested.

Hundreds of women at the Western Wall, March 12, 2013 (Tomer Persico)
Hundreds of women at the Western Wall, March 12, 2013 (Tomer Persico)

According to the regulations at the Western Wall, as determined by its chief rabbi, and backed by the state authorities (the legal issues are a bit more complex and nuanced –  to read more, click here)  women are prohibited from wearing tefillin (phylacteries) or tallitot (prayer shawl) or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall. Women of the Wall have been protesting this practice for over two decades.

Anat Hoffman, who launched the movement in 1988, and heads the Israel Religious Action Center, has been arrested more than once for wearing a prayer shawl or reading from the Torah scroll at the Wall. While police often stand back and allow them to proceed, 10 women from the group were arrested, making headlines.

Tuesday morning, several female MKs joined hundreds of women at the wall, in a show of support, bringing with them their parliamentary immunity. MK Tamar Zandberg: “I am a secular woman, this is the first time I have worn a prayer shawl, but I came in solidarity with this feminist struggle.”  No one was arrested, but Zandberg said police tried to stop her from entering the area with a prayer shawl. “I just forced my way in,” she said. The large number of women, and the fact that several MKs were among them, likely prevented arrests today.

Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman, MK Stav Shafir (Labor), MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) (left to right) at the Western Wall, March 12, 2013 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman, MK Stav Shafir (Labor), MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) (left to right) at the Western Wall, March 12, 2013 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Such protests both highlight and challenge the lack of religious freedom for Jews in the Jewish state itself, and gender inequality in what Israel deems to be Judaism’s holiest site.  I wonder what would happen if enough MKs and hundreds of people showed up to the weekly protests in the West Bank against occupation, and that other Wall.

 

Women of the Wall pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. March 12, 2013 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
Women of the Wall pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. March 12, 2013 (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)