Thousands of Orthodox worshipers clashed on Friday morning, Rosh Chodesh Adar II, with about 150 Women of the Wall at the entrance to the Western Wall plaza.
The WOW worshipers arrived at the plaza for a festive prayer in honor of Rosh Chodesh (first of the new Jewish month), marking the 30th anniversary of their organization and International Women’s Day. Thousands of Orthodox yeshiva students, boys and girls, arrived at the same plaza, essentially crowding out the WOW group.
Haredi male protesters drowned out the Women’s prayers while attempting to prevent them physically from attending their monthly prayer service.
כ-150 מתפללות מקבוצת נשות הכותל הגיעו לכותל המערבי לציון 30 שנה לארגון. אלפי מתפללים ובנות סמינר חרדיות הגיעו למקום בתגובה לאירוע. רב הכותל המערבי, שמואל רבינוביץ, הכריז כי רחבת הכותל אינה מיועדת להפגנות, וביקש להימנע מפרובוקציות@AkivaWeisz pic.twitter.com/UhII7je39S
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 8, 2019
The police fenced an entire area stretching from the plaza’s entrance to the wall in the Women’s section, to create a barrier between them and the demonstrators, and give WOW members full access to the wall and an entire section to pray in. Some Haredi demonstrators reportedly tried to break through the fences and prevent the women from advancing through the plaza.
According to a statement by the police spokesperson, it appears to the police that some members of the WOW group entered the main prayer section to purposely cause a provocation, despite requests by police that they pray in the section of the Women’s section set aside for their group.
Before and during the service, the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, used the public address system to call on the thousands of Haredi worshipers not to turn the holy site into a place of demonstrations, urging the men protesting against the women of the Wall to leave the women’s section and allow them to pray.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 8, 2019
Yizhar Hess, director general of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement, was attacked at the plaza by shouts and spittle. He told a Kan reporter: “I am sorry to say that the police is confronting but failing to control the Haredi crowd. I have been here with the women of the Wall for almost ten years and I do not recall this level of violence. They came here all fueled and ready.”
The men’s and women’s sections were filled with thousands of worshipers on Friday morning, and the clashes between the Haredim and WOW took place at the fringes.
Originally, WOW demanded that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which is responsible for the site, make the PA system available to them, as is commonly done in mass prayer rallies. Needless to say, the request – which was tantamount to asking firefighters for a light – was rejected by Rabbi Rabinovitch. In fact, the loudspeaker system was made available to the cantor of the main Orthodox prayer minyan, which was attended by thousands of worshipers.
Reform movement director-general Gilad Kariv, who was also at the Western Wall plaza, claimed that “the Israel Police and the rabbi of the Western Wall knowingly abrogate the right of the Women of the Wall to perform prayers, which is in complete violation of the [pro-WOW] High Court’s ruling.”
According to Kariv, “hundreds of women who have come to pray are unable to enter the plaza because of violence – without proper police response.”
Of course, because nothing spells proper law and order better than mounted cops beating on Haredi worshipers…
On Thursday, former Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, along with religious Zionist Rabbis Tzvi Yisrael Tau, Shmuel Eliyahu, Yehoshua Shapira and Shlomo Aviner, urged the religious public to hold a counter demonstration. The operation was a success, with the participation of thousands of students who arrived in buses from all over the country.
The rabbis issued a poster headlined, “Reform at the Western Wall? It’s not normal,” arguing that “unfortunately, in recent years the holy place has been the focus of repeated and severe provocations by a group of women who call themselves the Women of the Wall, but in practice violate the Wall, disturbing the prayers. Their true goal, in cahoots with Reform organizations, is to harm generations of Jewish tradition and the Torah, and to weaken Judaism in the State of Israel.”