Women of the Wall 'Almost Caused Bloodshed'

Kotel Rabbi slams provocateurs who took Torah scroll into women's section, sparking scuffle and police intervention.

Gil Ronen ,

Torah stunt at Kotel
Torah stunt at Kotel
Miriam Alster, Flash 90

Members of the radical Women of the Wall group created a provocation at the Western Wall Monday, when they brought a Torah scroll into the women's section of the Kotel Plaza, read from it and held it high, in contravention of custom.

The provocation caused men to cross over from the men's section into the women's section in order to try and retrieve the Torah scroll. Police intervened in the ensuing scuffle.

According to Orthodox Judaism, Torah scrolls generally belong in the men's section of a synagogue. The same holds true for the Kotel Plaza, which is officially recognized as an Orthodox synagogue. Specifically, the custom at the Western Wall is that the Torah scroll is only used in the men's section.

Women of the Wall, who come to the Kotel Plaza every Rosh Hodesh, or beginning of the Hebrew month, have used various means to challenge this custom. In recent months, they smuggled tiny Torah scrolls into the women's section on their bodies, and then took them out and read from them.

On Monday, they used a new trick. A group of men who collaborated with them read from a Torah scroll in the men's section and then handed over the scroll to Women of the Wall activists who awaited in the women's section.

A scuffle ensued when observant Orthodox men tried to take the scroll back. Police were called in, and they surrounded the women until they finished praying.

According to regulations promulgated by the Kotel Rabbi, the only Torah scrolls that can be used at the Kotel are the ones that are kept on site for that purpose, and which are available for use in the men's section. No one may bring in other Torahs.

One of the Women of the Wall told journalists that police have begun cooperating with the group since District Judge Moshe Sobel ruled that the prayer by the Women of the Wall is compatible with the custom at the site.

'Near bloodshed'

Kotel Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich said Monday that the Women of the Wall group “has made another tear in the delicate fabric of the Kotel.”

"The Torah scroll was handed over the partition in a way that demeaned it, he said. “This is a provocative act whose sole purpose is to 'set the Kotel on fire' – and indeed they succeeded in arousing the anger of the worshipers. It was only thanks to the hard work of the police and Kotel attendants that blood was not actually spilled.”

The rabbi asked that the Government Secretary and the Minister of Religions set regulations for the site in a way that prevents such provocations, by what he called “a marginal group that is waging its battles at the expense of the worshipers and visitors to the Kotel.”

Torah stunt at Kotel. Miriam Alster, Flash 90

As can be seen  in the photos, some of the Women of the Wall also challenge other aspects of the gender differentiation that has been part and parcel of Jewish family mores for thousands of years. They often lay tefillin (phylacteries), which are worn only by men in Orthodox practice, as well as donning traditionally male prayer shawls (tallitot).

According to Kikar Hashabat, Women of the Wall Chairperson Anat Hoffman accused Rabbi Rabinovich of “inciting” against her group, whose members are “the only ones who refuse to surrender to the religious extremism that is taking over the Kotel.” She called on the Prime Minister to “restrain” the Kotel Rabbi.