On Friday, November 5, hundreds of ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews converged at the Western Wall. The group was protesting a group of women that held monthly prayers within the Western Wall. For decades, the Neshot Hakotel or the Women of the Wall have been campaigning against ultra-orthodox Jews who oppose changes in the holy site and want to maintain separate areas for men and women.
The primarily male protesters blew whistles and tried surging towards the women’s group in an attempt to disperse them. Police set up metal barricades to control the crowd, with some police officers gearing up for possible violence. They also surrounded the Women of the Wall members, a stark difference from their previous crowd control efforts. A historic first, Religion News Service (RNS) reported.
Anat Hoffman, the executive director of Israel Religious Action Center and the Women of the Wall chairwoman, said they’re “fighting for equality and religious pluralism and justice.” She attributed the change in the police’s handling of their monthly prayers to the new prime minister’s policies.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government has pushed the ultra-orthodox Jewish parties into the opposition. Adding to the ire of the ultra-orthodox is Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi recently elected into the parliament. Kariv plans to use his parliamentary immunity to carry a Torah scroll into the women’s section of the Western Wall, a show of defiance to the ultra-orthodox administrators of the Holy Site.
Kariv’s plan was put on hold when Israeli President Isaac Herzog requested that he call off his visit to prevent possible violent conflicts.
Hoffman was dismayed with Kariv backing down on his plan; she said, “we cannot read from the Torah in the women’s section in 2021.” “Why not? Why the hell not?” Hoffman appended.
Yochi Rapaport, director of the Women of the Wall, said that women “are not allowed to hold a Torah scroll or read the Torah” publicly within the Western Wall’s vicinity. “We are discriminated against and excluded in the holiest place for Jews,” she added. Some members of the group carried Torah scroll covers, while another member was seen clutching a Torah.
Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right MP, was shouted at leaving after he approached the Women of the Wall members calling, “don’t harm the Western Wall.” He left after supporters drowned him with “Ben Gvir, go home!”
In an interview with RNS, Hoffman said she noticed the difference in how the police handled the crowd this time. Now, she can see that Bennett’s government has “a commitment that there won’t be bloodshed at the wall.” “In the past, we felt that the police weren’t protecting us. Today’s level of protection was unprecedented,” she added.