By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel — Last Monday Israeli police arrested 10 women for wearing tallits (prayer shawls), at the Western Wall, one of Israel’s holiest sites. In Orthodox Judaism, wearing a tallit at the Wall is a custom traditionally reserved for men.

Rabbi Susan Silverman (L) and her daughter Hallel Abramowitz were part of the 10 women arrested at the Western Wall for wearing prayer shawls at the site. (Photo Courtesy of Russia Today)

The women, all members of an activist group called the Women of the Wall (WOTW), whose mission is to promote gender equality in religious practice.  WOTW visited the Western Wall to pray for the Jewish new month of Adar at a monthly service which featured veterans who fought at the Western Wall during the Six Day War of 1967.  Among the arrested women were WOTW founder Anat Hoffman, Lion Nevo, an 8 month pregnant rabbinical student, and Rabbi Susan Silverman, sister of the comedian Sarah Silverman, and her 17 year old daughter Hallel Abramowitz. The ladies linked arms and sang songs as they were escorted to a police station.  Some women were released after they were questioned for three hours by police, however those who did not agree to a conditional release will have to attend a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate Court on Monday.

“They (police) said ‘take off your prayer shawls’, and we said ‘no,'” said Silverman.  Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said that the women were violating a “regulation set by the High Court” a decade ago, which was enacted to uphold Orthodox rules at the site for the sake of avoiding tensions between worshippers.  Silverman said that the regulation amounted to “spitting on the Sinai,” the site in the Bible where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.  “All Jews are in a covenant with God, regardless of gender,” she said.  Sarah Silverman commended her sister through her Facebook page, saying that she was “SO proud” of her sister and niece for their act of “civil disobedience.”

The police were criticized for the arrests.  “It’s unacceptable that the police are stopping women from wearing a tallitot, it’s like Iran. I can’t believe they are stopping people from praying in one certain way or another, said Llon Bartov, a veteran who fought in the Six Day War. “This is just attrition,” said WOTW Founder Hoffman.  ” They want the group to become frightened.”

The women who were detained claimed that they were amongst hundreds of supporters who came to pray at the Wall.  Dozens of men who supported their cause were also present.  Some of them had even smuggled prayer shawls which they passed over the gender barrier “like contraband goods.”  After their arrest, WOTW moved its Torah reading to the police station where their fellow members were being held.

For further information please see:

Al Jazeera — Israel Detains Women Over Prayer Shawls — 11 February 2013

The Jerusalem Post — 10 Women Arrested at Kotel for Wearing Tallitot — 11 February 2013

Russia Today — Shawl Male Rule: Israeli Police Detain Ten Women Over ‘Improper Attire’ at Holy Site — 11 February 2013

The Times of Israel — 10 Women with Prayer Shawls Arrested at Western Wall — 11 February 2013

Author: Ali Al-Bassam