Thousands of charedim streamed to the Kosel early Sunday morning, Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, in answer to the call of gedolei Yisrael, but only a few hundred succeeded in reaching Judaism’s holiest site due to a massive police cordon aimed at escorting a few dozen members of Women of the Wall.
In an unprecedented and shocking occurrence, the Kosel plaza was closed to mispallelim by the police, something which has been associated in the past only with outbreaks of Arab rioting and stone-throwing on adjacent Har Habayis. Never before has the Kosel purposely been closed to mispallelim by the Israeli police.
Deputy Mayor of Yerushalayim Yossi Daitch (UTJ) decried the scene at the Kosel on Sunday morning as a “terrible disgrace.” He noted that the police were so solicitous of the Women of the Wall that the only thing they didn’t do for them was serve them coffee.
In an interview with Hamodia, he said the entire area was “hermetically sealed for some 40 minutes” before 7 a.m. Those inside could not leave except by the steps leading up to the Old City.
Again, at about 8 a.m., the area was closed to allow the Women of the Wall to leave with their heavy police escort. But even after the closure was officially lifted, the remaining barricades, confusion, crowds of police and snarled traffic made it difficult for anyone to reach the area until after 9 a.m.
“This small group of women is trying to take the Kosel for themselves — this holiest site in Judaism, which has always belonged to all of the Jewish people,” Daitch said. “Since it was opened to the public in 1967, everyone has known how to behave at the Kosel, with respect and modesty. … Now they want to change Maaseh Bereishis.
“We heard them say today that they want to lower the mechitzah … and to come in tallis and tefillin, and to do whatever they want.
“The Kosel represents the heart of the Jewish people, and these women want to divide this heart in two. They must be prevented at any cost,” he said.
Contrary to media reports, Daitch said that chareidim did not come to the Kosel “to demonstrate; it is not a place for demonstrations.” They came at the summons of Gedolei Yisrael to daven and “to show how one should behave at the Kosel” with modesty and respect.
Rav of the Kosel Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said, “Police had turned the Kosel into a closed fort in order to allow Women of the Wall to engage in their provocative activities. Such actions are shameful. Police set up barricades among those who had come to pray, kept the bathrooms closed, and prevented worshippers from even coming to the Kosel, causing great damage to the principle of equality that the site is supposed to represent.”
In a statement, Rabbi Rabinowitz said, “The events Sunday morning dishonored the Jewish people.”
“The Old City was under siege for the first time since 1949,” Leah Aharoni, co-founder of Women for the Wall, who organized the large women’s gathering last month at the Kosel, told Hamodia on Sunday. Aharoni said that many people who had wanted to daven at the Kosel in the morning were turned away by police who cordoned off entrances to the Old City. Nevertheless, she and some others succeeded in arriving at the Kosel early, before the police closed off the area.
The Women of the Wall, who entered the area under the protection of the police, she said, were not satisfied with the event; one of their leaders screamed that because of the chareidim, they were forced into a “cage” of police.
Aharoni added that Women for the Wall organized a prayer teleconference on Sunday in which hundreds of women from the U.S. participated.
Aharoni mentioned that Women of the Wall, in a posting on Erev Shabbos, compared themselves to Korach, whom they described as “a man ahead of his time.”
Chareidi political leaders voiced anger over the preferential treatment given to a small group of provocateurs.
Shas chairman Aryeh Deri said: “We will demand that the police explain how it is that a small group like this can dictate the conduct of the police.”
MKs Uri Maklev and Meir Porush (UTJ) submitted an urgent query to Interior Security Minister Yitzchak Aharanovitch, demanding an explanation for why the police saw fit to bar thousands of worshippers so that this tiny group could demonstrate.
MK Menachem Eliezer Moses (UTJ) said, “This is a strange country. We are beset by dangers on every side, and instead of uniting, this group of agitators, falsifiers of Judaism, chooses to provoke the public, which has guarded the holiness of the Kosel since the Churban.
“Two weeks ago there was a discussion at the Interior Committee with this same group of women, whom I call not ‘Women of the Wall’ but ‘Desecrators of the Wall.’”
One of them wrapped herself in a tallis and the committee chairwoman, MK Miri Regev (Likud), told her that in the Knesset it’s not appropriate. “But in the great beis knesses which is known as the Kosel, which belongs to the entire Jewish people, it is appropriate?”
Police arrested two men for allegedly throwing objects, one an egg, the other a bottle, at the police.
Police reportedly said that the closure of the Kosel was necessary to protect the Women of the Wall.
News of the incident caused an uproar in Jewish communities abroad.
“Today’s shocking events at the Kosel, though unprecedented, were just the latest manifestation of the kulturkampf being waged by the current Israeli government against the charedi community,” Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwibel, Executve Vice President of Agudath Israel of America told Hamodia yesterday. “That war seeks to relegate charedim to the status of second class citizens, even at Judaism’s holiest site. This is totally unacceptable,” the Agudah leader stressed.
By Baruch Younger
Rabbi and Mrs. Isaacson*, visiting from New York, davened vasikin at the Kosel on Sunday morning, as they often do. With neitz hachamah being around 5:30 a.m., they were there well before 5:00. They noticed a heightened police presence when they arrived at the Kosel, but unaware of what was going to happen, they paid no attention to it as the davening began. It was Rosh Chodesh, and the crowd was bigger than on an ordinary day.
In the middle of Mussaf, the police suddenly began moving the mechitzos in a way that made the men’s section smaller, disturbing those who were davening. Their objective was to create a “no man’s land” between the men’s and women’s section and create a “VIP” area for a group of women heading to the Kosel for their monthly service, which is against mesorah. At this point it was already obvious that the police were preparing for a confrontation. The Isaacsons had no interest in being a part of it; all they wanted was to daven at Judaism’s holiest site.
When davening was over, the Isaacsons headed in the direction of the gates to make their way home. Rabbi Isaacson was stopped by a policeman, who told him unequivocally that he would not be able to leave through the regular exit. Instead, he could go up the 130 steps to the Jewish Quarter and exit from there.
Rabbi Isaacson is no youngster, and he told the police officer that his wife was waiting for him at the exit of the women’s section and he needed to meet up with her and then with their driver outside the Dung Gate. He also made it clear that he was in no physical shape to climb those stairs. “I entered from here and I wish to exit from here,” Rabbi Isaacson told the officer.
After a few minutes, an older supervisor came over and asked what the commotion was about. Realizing that his underling was being overzealous — as Rabbi Isaacson posed no threat to the “public order” — he opened the barrier and let him leave.
As the Isaacsons exited the Dung Gate, they saw the buses bringing the group of women who caused the upheaval.
The entire experience deeply troubled the Isaacsons. Rabbi Isaacson has been coming to the Kosel very frequently ever since it was liberated in 1967. “Seeing Jewish policemen preventing other Jews from reaching or leaving the Kosel is a sight I would have never believed possible. I wish I wouldn’t have seen it. What has this government come to? Jews should be limited from davening at Klal Yisrael’s holiest site? Everyone should be able to come to the Kosel and everyone should respect the halachos and traditions that have characterized the site for generations. No liberal Jew would ever dream of entering a mosque, l’havdil, and offending the feelings of the worshippers. I have read about this monthly flare-up in Hamodia, but seeing it myself was a shocking sight indeed.”