The five women arrested at the Kotel Thursday morning while participating in a Rosh Chodesh prayer service with Women of the Wall were released by the judge before whom they appeared in a Jerusalem court in a move described by the women’s prayer group as “groundbreaking precedent.”
About 300 women, including two members of the Knesset, participated in the Rosh Chodesh service with Women of the Wall. About 50 wore prayer shawls, according to a press release from the group. It was the first time that singing out loud was listed by police as among the reasons they detained Women of the Wall service participants.
According to this English translation of the court proceeding’s transcript, the attorney representing the police described the women as “brazenly stomping on the law” and “carrying out provocations” at the Kotel.
In court, the attorney representing the police faulted Women of the Wall for causing problems: “Each month and up until the present time, the prayer services have become more and more tense, and more and more publicly defiant, and the women arrive from the outset wrapped in tallitot and wearing tefillin on their arms, with the objective of creating a fait accompli. This causes a disturbance of the peace at the Western Wall, as well as incitement.”
He asked that the court “order a targeted removal,” requiring women not to go to the Kotel for the next three Rosh Chodesh prayer services.
Judge Sharon Larry-Bavly released the women, saying, “I find that there is no basis for the arrest of the Respondents. The disturbance of the peace that has occurred at the Western Wall, to the extent that it took place, was not a disturbance of the peace on the part of the Respondents.”
The defendants were Women of the Wall Director Leslie Sachs, Bonny Riva Ras, Valerie Stessin, Sylvie Rozenbaum and Sharona Kramer.
The judge said that Women of the Wall prayer service participants approached another female worshiper who carried an umbrella featuring “defamatory slogans directed against Women of the Wall,” according to the transcript. “Under these circumstances, it was not Women of the Wall who initiated the provocation.”
Meanwhile, according to Arutz Sheva, which calls Women of the Wall “a fringe group,” Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the arbiter of religious customs at the Kotel, put out a call to “uproot the divisive Women of the Wall.” Rabinowitz said that the group has but one purpose, “the fan the flames of hatred and divisiveness among Jews.”
Earlier this week, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky met with leaders of Jewish organizations in New York and told journalists that he plans to recommend more than doubling the size of the Kotel plaza to include area by Robinson’s Arch — which is currently an archeological site — dedicated to egalitarian prayer.
The Kotel’s Rabbi Rabinowitz said in a statement, according to Arutz Sheva, “shows that their entire purpose is to sow dissent and to injure the feelings of other Jews, while further dividing the Jewish nation and turning the Kotel into a battlefield for fanatics on both sides.”
Debra Nussbaum Cohen is an award-winning journalist who covers philanthropy, religion, gender and other contemporary issues. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York magazine, among many other publications. She authored the book “Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant.”