A women's activist group read from a full-size Torah scroll at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Monday to demand equality for freedom of worship in violation of the holy site's rules. The protest pitted the group, Women of the Wall, against Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who asked police at the site to intervene and remove the Torah scroll from the women’s section. Meanwhile, men who came out to support the feminist protesters were attacked by a group of ultra-Orthodox men, Haaretz reported.
A barrier separates the men’s and women’s prayer sections at the Jewish holy site also known as the Wailing Wall. Orthodox officials refuse to allow women to read from a Torah scroll in the women's section, claiming it violates “local custom.” Security guards at the Western Wall have been known to search women in the past for Torah scrolls. Male supporters passed the women the Torah scroll on Monday through a gap in the barrier separating the men’s and women’s sections.
"As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall," the group's website reads. "We take it upon ourselves to educate Jewish women and the public about the social, political and personal ramifications of limiting and eliminating women’s right to pray as a group at a holy site. When the law and the society literally, publicly and deliberately silence women in prayer, it is a violation of civil rights, human rights and religious freedoms."
Rabinowitz, however, said the activists were fueling tensions at the site. “This is a provocative step intended to ignite the Western Wall, and indeed, the women of the organization manage to provoke the anger of worshipers, and the Israel Police and employees of the Western Wall had to work hard in order to avoid bloodshed,” he told the Times of Israel.
In April 2013, an Israeli court ruling said women had the right to pray according to their beliefs at the Western Wall. But the rabbinic authority at the site has continued to prohibit Torah scrolls in the women’s section.
In October 2014, Women of the Wall smuggled in a tiny 200-year-old holy scroll at the Wailing Wall for prayer. “The rabbinical authority doesn’t want us there, they only want people who practice ultra-religious traditions to pray at the Wailing Wall," Shira Spure, a member of Women of the Wall, told NBC News at the time. "This is ridiculous."