Women held for breaching ban at Jerusalem Western Wall

The women say they should have the right to wear religious items at the Wall like men

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Five women have been arrested at Jerusalem's Western Wall for breaching a ban on performing religious rituals Orthodox Jews say are reserved for men.

The women are part of a movement seeking to overturn the prohibition, issued by the High Court in 2003.

Authorities are working on a compromise to try to resolve the dispute.

The Western Wall - a relic of the Biblical Temple compound - currently has separate sections where men and women are allowed to pray.

At sunrise on Thursday morning, about 120 women gathered inside their section at the wall to pray.

The BBC's Erica Chernofsky, who was at the scene, said a number of women from the Women of the Wall (WoW) movement wore phylacteries, skullcaps and colourful prayer shawls, religious items traditionally worn by Orthodox Jewish men.

About 100 men on the other side of the division heckled the group, while an ultra-Orthodox woman unfurled an umbrella with slogans on it denouncing the women, our correspondent says. The woman, and an ultra-Orthodox man who set fire to one of the WoW's prayer books, were also detained.

Start Quote

If these things can be done at the Western Wall without hurting others, and this can bring about compromise and serenity, I don't object”

End Quote Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz Rabbi of the Western Wall

The group have vowed to lead prayer services at the site every month, and members have previously been arrested there for violating the ban.

However, a compromise could see a new area for mixed-gender and women-led prayer.

The proposal has come from Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency - a government-backed organisation that facilitates the immigration of Jewish people to Israel.

"One Western Wall for one Jewish people," said Mr Sharansky, expressing hope that the site "will once again be a symbol of unity among the Jewish people and not one of discord and strife".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to consider Mr Sharansky's proposals, an Israeli official told Reuters news agency.

Correspondents say the proposal risks upsetting Israel's powerful ultra-Orthodox community as well as Muslims who worship near the Western Wall, reflecting the complex religious sensitivities in the area.

In a boost for the plan, the Western Wall's Orthodox Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz endorsed the new prayer section.

"I want everyone to pray according to Orthodox Jewish religious law, but I don't interfere," he told Israel's Army Radio.

"If these things can be done at the Western Wall without hurting others, and this can bring about compromise and serenity, I don't object."

Women of the Wall say their central mission is to be able to "wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall".

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