Five Jewish feminists who on Thursday wore prayer shawls and prayed out loud at Jerusalem’s Western Wall in defiance of a court order have been detained for questioning, a police spokeswoman said.
Some 200 women gathered at the Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City to stage what has become a monthly protest by activists seeking to overturn a legal ban on them performing certain religious rituals at the sacred site, an AFP correspondent said.
Media reports this week said Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky was trying to find a compromise so the women could pray as they wish without offending more traditional worshippers.
“Five (women) who were wearing a tallit, which is barred by the Supreme Court, were taken for questioning,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP.
An ultra-Orthodox man who tried to set fire to a prayer pamphlet being held by one of the women was also taken for questioning, Samri said.
Wearing a tallit, a fringed prayer shawl, is one of several practices traditionally reserved for men at the sacred spot in the Old City. A court in 2003 ruled that women could not perform such rituals there as this would constitute a danger to public order.
Under Israeli law, women are allowed to pray at the ancient wall, but in silence.
The activists, who belong to a group called Women of the Wall, have been going the site to pray on the first day of every Jewish month for 25 years, sparking insults and curses from the men at the site.
At the same time, they have been waging a protracted legal struggle over their right to pray out loud, to wear prayer shawls and to hold a Torah scroll at the site.
The AFP correspondent said that some of the women at Thursday’s protest were wrapped in tallits while others wore skullcaps.
Religious men tried to drown out their singing and prayers by carrying out their own rites at a volume much louder than usual.
The women say access to the Wall, the most sacred spot at which Jews can pray, is open to all streams of Judaism, including the Reform and Liberal branches which accord women an equal place alongside men.
The Jewish Agency, a body tasked with linking Israel to Jewish communities around the world, confirmed on its Facebook page Sharansky was working on a compromise plan.
“Sharansky hopes his recommendations will be accepted and will decrease the heightened tensions at the Western Wall,” it said in a move aimed at making the site “a symbol of unity among the Jewish people, and not one of discord and strife”.
The site is venerated by Jews as the last remnant of wall supporting the Second Temple complex, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
On its other side is the compound housing the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Also known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the compound is a deeply sensitive location where clashes frequently break out between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli forces.