Police Restrict ‘Women of the Wall’ to Rear of the Plaza
In what amounted to a reversal of last month’s incident when police blocked all entrance routes to the Kosel for chareidim to enable the Women of the Wall to gather there, police this time restricted the small heterodox group to the back of the Kosel plaza while several thousand chareidi women davened Shacharis there on Monday, Rosh Chodesh Av.
“We see today’s event as a great success for many reasons not the least of them is that it brought different parts of the Torah world together in unity,” Leah Aharoni, an organizer of the Women for the Wall, told Hamodia. “This was a fitting event for Rosh Chodesh Av, a tremendous kiddush Hashem,” she said.
An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 chareidi women of varying ages and walks of life — high school and seminary students, mothers and grandmothers — turned out at the behest of Gedolei Yisrael.
“There were hundreds of married women and grandmothers there who come often, and who came today to show who the real women for the Kosel are,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice-President Emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel.
Women of the Wall complained of having been thwarted this time. As the group’s director Lesley Sachs told The Jerusalem Post, “We’re upset and frustrated. We always cooperate with the police but we feel like we’ve been betrayed by the police today because where we’ve been made to pray today is not a place of prayer, it’s the parking lot.”
Women of the Wall arrived in three buses and two minibuses, about 180 people in all, including some men.
Yitzhar Hess, director of the Conservative Movement in Israel, threatened renewed legal action, charging that police conduct on Monday violated a recent ruling of the District Court to allow the group to pray at the Kosel as they wish.
Aharoni scorned the notion of suing the police, pointing out that “the police have gone out of their way to accommodate them, including preventing the flow of worshippers to the Kosel to let their buses in.
“Last month, the police prevented thousands of worshippers from reaching the Kosel altogether to accommodate them. Freedom of religion cuts both ways and the police are doing their best to maintain public order under the circumstances,” she said.
Rabbi Lerner noted that “the court order, I believe, said they can wear tallis and tefillin, but it didn’t tell the police to kick out others who were there first, or to give them special access.” He also objected to descriptions of the chareidi women at the Kosel in the media as “protesters,” rather than mispallelim.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police acted as they did for the safety of the Women of the Wall. He explained that there was no way to approach the prayer area near the Kosel because it was already packed with mispallelim. The chareidi women arrived early in the morning, on buses from around Yerushalayim that departed as early as 5:45 a.m. for a 6:30 Shacharis.
The office of Yerushalayim Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitsch told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that he and other UTJ officials had met with the police last week to inform them of their plans.
Police Spokesman Shmulik Ben Ruby said that he would not give out details about the meetings but did confirm that the police “meet with both sides.”
Some media reports highlighted the few disturbances, which came from a contingent of chareidi boys who allegedly threw eggs and a water bottle. Police arrested three people for disorderly conduct.
However, Aharoni, who was there on Monday, said she “did not see the boys throwing anything,” though she acknowledged that a “small group of boys and men who lack derech eretz created the monthly media spectacle by screaming and misbehaving.”
Deputy Mayor Yossi Deitch (UTJ) issued a statement on Monday saying that “the Kosel is a place that unites and binds all of the Jewish people. It is a great shame that on Rosh Chodesh Av a group of strange women come to the Kosel in order to divide … the people.”