Feb. 27 (UPI) — Thousands of Orthodox Jewish men and women attempted to disrupt a group of progressive women from conducting a prayer service Monday at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Police estimated between 1,000 and 2,000 female seminary students, primarily from religious Zionist high schools, tried to block the women from praying at Israeli’s holiest site. Male students standing in the men’s section attempted to drown out the women’s prayers with shouting, cursing and blowing whistles.
The ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and women were protesting the women wearing tefillin, yarmulkes, and prayer shawls — Jewish religious objects traditionally only worn by men.
About 120 members of the Women of the Wall group prayed in the women’s section to celebrate the beginning of the Jewish month of Adar with prayer, songs and reading from a Torah scroll.
One girl also celebrated her bat mitzvah during the service.
“Noa Brenner came to Western Wall to have her bat mitzvah and participate in the services in the new month, and there were thousands of people, men and women, jeering and shouting and screaming and spitting and throwing, in every possible way trying to disturb the prayer and the festivities,” Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman said to The Jerusalem Post.
“My only comment to Noa today is that I am convinced that when she’s a grandmother her grandchildren will not believe her that her bat mitzvah was the chaos we saw today, because by then bat mitzvah [at the Western Wall] will be a normal thing.”
Police broke a human chain of religious women at the entrance. They also erected barriers that enclosed them in a small area and prevented them from praying up against the wall itself.
Rabbi Susan Silverman, a Women of the Wall activist, posted on Twitter that they were targeted by a “mob of mean black hats,” and “people who ‘know’ God’s will and enforce that in civil law and violence are fascist idolaters.”
Rabbis from the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist communities asked students from across Israel to protest at the Western Wall.
Last month, a Supreme Court ruling ordered a halt to searching women entering the Western Wall plaza for ritual items such as Torah scrolls. They also gave the state 30 days to find “good cause” why a woman may not read aloud from a Torah scroll during prayer service.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas Party has proposed a bill classifying the entire area as a holy site governed by Israel’s rabbinic courts and the chief rabbinate of Israel. Prayer services would be limited solely to state-approved Orthodox practice.
“There are many varied opinions within the national religious community on this issue, and sending school girls to a demonstration like the one this morning is an educational and moral failure by parents and the [educational] institutions,” said Ne’emani Torah Va’Avodah, a liberal national-religious lobbying group.