For a glimpse at the tragicomedy of life in Jerusalem—in which prayers are policed, and worshipers are warriors—have a look at this press release sent to reporters yesterday by the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall, regarding this morning’s Rosh Chodesh prayer services.
Setting: Epicenter of the Old City of Jerusalem, where the holiest Muslim and Jewish worship sites are located one on top of the other
Cast of Characters:
Women of the Wall: Liberal Jewish women’s prayer group. Caused controversy in recent months for wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries—accouterments reserved for men only in Orthodox Judaism—during monthly prayer sessions at the Western Wall, a key Jewish holy site. A recent court ruling instructed police to stop arresting Women of the Wall activists for wearing the prayer shawls, which police charged was disturbing the “status quo” at the holy site.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews: Opposed to Women of the Wall. Staged a recent pray-in at the Western Wall. Throngs of young female seminary students flooded the women’s prayer section at the holy site, leaving little room for Women of the Wall activists.
Western Wall Rabbi: Ultra-Orthodox rabbi in charge of the Western Wall. Ultra-Orthodox rabbi in charge of the Western Wall. Personally opposed to liberal women’s prayer. Has attempted to strike compromises to please all Jewish constituencies.
Jerusalem Police: In charge of reducing friction between Jerusalem’s religious groups. Deploys officers in droves to prevent attacks during times of mass prayer in Jerusalem’s Old City.
(translated from the Hebrew)
30 Av 5773
6 August 2013
Jerusalem Police and the Rabbi of the Western Wall approached ultra-Orthodox representatives and the Women of the Wall group to refrain from clashes at the Western Wall because of security sensitivities – end of the month of Ramadan
Tomorrow morning, throngs of Muslims are expected to arrive for the final prayer of the fast month of Ramadan, which poses significant security sensitivities for the entire area. The police is deploying an increased number of officers to ensure the safety of residents in the area.
Therefore, the police and the Western Wall rabbi approached ultra-Orthodox representatives in the Jerusalem Municipality to refrain from coming with seminar girls for Rosh Chodesh prayers at the Western Wall in protest against the presence of the Women of the Wall.
A similar request was made to the Women of the Wall, in which the police requested the female worshipers to arrive as was instructed to them in the past, without tefillin.
The ultra-Orthodox agreed to the police request — but the Women of the Wall refused.
Therefore, tomorrow, ultra-Orthodox women will come to the Western Wall to protest the presence of the Women of the Wall. Israeli Police are preparing to prevent clashes between the women.
This morning, the ultra-Orthodox girls arrived at the Western Wall first. Like last month, they filled the entire women’s prayer section. And like last month, police barred the Women of the Wall from reaching the women’s section. They had to pray in the back of the plaza. Crowd control, the police said. No violence was reported. Women of the Wall activists threatened to step up their fight for next month’s prayer service.
Daniel Estrin is a print and radio journalist. His stories have been featured in outlets including The Associated Press, The Atlantic, NPR and Public Radio International.