Women of the Wall service leads to detainment and physical encounter

 

Shana Medel

Women of the Wall, a pluralistic prayer group that meet once a month in front of the Kotel. To the right of the woman in the blue shirt is Erica Hruby, Central Florida Hillel assistant director, who is in Israel taking a learning program for Hillel staff.

Jewish women representing and supporting the pluralistic prayer group Women of the Wall gathered at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Friday morning, July 17. However, cries of disapproval from the religious community overpowered their service.

"We want to abolish the discriminatory regulations that are preventing women from praying freely at the Western Wall," said Shira Pruce, director of public relations for the group. "That means allowing women access to Sefer Torah that will sit here," she added, gesturing to the women's section of the Kotel.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation prevents worshippers from bringing personal Torah scrolls to the Kotel. With no scrolls in the women's section and prohibitions against borrowing one of the several dozen from the men's section, members of Women of the Wall have made repeated attempts to sneak Sefer Torah past security. Pruce said she suspects their success over the past few months was the cause for Friday morning's uproar.

Upon going through security at 6:30 a.m., board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun was confronted by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. She was handcuffed and taken to the police station, along with the Sefer Torah she had stowed inside her bag. Yeshurun was not charged and was released shortly after.


"We cannot get one of the Torah scrolls that are for public use, but we are part of the public," said Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall. "It's outrageous and embarrassing that we have to sneak it in."

Services began at 7 a.m. From just outside the women's prayer section, shouts of criticism rang from a cluster of haredi men. A protester threw a bottle at the women, close to where Central Florida Hillel Assistant Director Erica Hruby was standing.

"I'm honored as a woman to be here," said Hruby. "I hope there will be a time where we don't have to struggle-where women can be free in a religious sense. I hope it's in my lifetime and in my daughter's lifetime."

Tensions escalated when a religious woman violently pushed against Ella Rembrand, a Women of the Wall supporter.

"We're just a group of women trying to pray," Rembrand asserted. "People think that we're provocative, and that's inconceivable to me."

She said the religious community's issue with pluralistic prayer does not stem from halachic reasoning, but from a tenacious desire to preserve the status quo.

However, not all women echoed her sentiments.

While some shook their heads in disapproval and murmured to themselves, others were vocal about their discontent, including one woman who took note of those wearing tefillin and tallit and shouted, "Why don't you just get a brit milah too?"

Despite having been confronted by angry individuals and crowds, flying objects and physical violence on more than one occasion, Hoffman said she is confident that Women of the Wall has and will continue to encourage change.

"We are part of this country. We are part of the Jewish people. We want the Torah," Hoffman said.

Shana Medel is an intern on the Heritage Florida Jewish News staff. She is in Israel for the summer with other members of the Central Florida UCF Hillel.

 

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