Israeli police separated the men's and women's sections of the Western Wall with metal barriers Tuesday to prevent a growing movement advocating for equal prayer rights at the historic Jerusalem holy site. Police also arrested a man trying to pass a Torah scroll to the women's section of the Western Wall. The women attempting to pray with a Torah were celebrating the bat mitzvahs of six 12-year-old girls, who had intended to chant from the scroll.
The office of Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel, headed by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, prohibits women from praying with a Torah scroll. Rabinovitch also has prohibited women from singing, wearing prayer shawls and other customs under the office’s interpretation of Orthodox Jewish law, according to the Forward. Meanwhile, dozens of Torah scrolls are kept in the men’s section.
Last month, Western Wall women protesters were able to smuggle a full-size Torah from the men's section and pray. At the time, Orthodox men physically attacked the men who helped the women.
“The Western Wall has been hijacked from being a national site welcoming Jews of all denominations to becoming run by an ultra-Orthodox minority, with regulations discriminating against women at the site," read a statement from Women of the Wall, the group that has led the movement for equal religious rights for nearly three decades, on Tuesday. The group posted a message on Facebook: “ ‘Sheriff Rabinowitz’ [sic] won his battle today against the six lovely Bnot Mitzvah. After a year of preparation and excitement, they could not read from a Torah Scroll at the Western Wall. With police barricades and locks, he has locked the Torah out of women’s reach. But he will not win the war. We say today loud and clear: we demand Torah for women at the Kotel. Rabbi Rabinowitz, LET MY TORAH GO!”
Israel's Supreme Court ruled in April 2013 that women had the right to pray at the Western Wall according to their beliefs. Women of the Wall gather at the holy site each month for morning prayer service.
“Rabbi Rabinowitz treats the Kotel as if it belongs to him and enforces ultra-Orthodox customs. It is insulting not only for Women of the Wall but to every woman wherever she is that all women are treated like second-rate citizens at the holiest place to the Jewish people," Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, told Haaretz.