More than 300 women affiliated with Women of the Wall (WOW) came on Thursday morning, Rosh Chodesh Tamuz (the first day of the Hebrew month Tamuz) to pray at the Western Wall, as has been their custom for the past 27 years. They were greeted by vocal opposition by several men present that culminated in one of them ripping up a prayer book.
The ultra-Orthodox man’s destruction of property was caught on video. He grabbed a prayer book out of the hands of a praying boy who called out twice in protest, “No! The name of God is in there!” Orthodox Judaism forbids destroying the written Hebrew name of God.
The men yelled at the female supplicants various epithets, such as “stinking bastards” and “whores, ” and interrupted them during their prayer by using whistles. WOW stated that they asked for aid from the security services present and were ignored.
Before they began praying, one of the two Torah scrolls that they had smuggled in was confiscated. A bat mitzvah ceremony was carried out for Franny Warner, a girl from Wisconsin who came to celebrate at the Western Wall—and to read from the Torah. WOW says that they sneak torah scrolls to the site monthly, as no such sacred texts are present in the women’s section. In the men’s, however, there are 100 Torah scrolls for that gender only.
WOW Chair of the Board Anat Hoffman commented, “Where people are tearing prayer books, bloodshed is in the future. The ultra-Orthodox man who, in the name of God, tore up a prayer book containing sacred texts, is likely to be the next Schlissel.” Yishai Schlissel murdered 16-year-old Shira Banki at the 2015 Jerusalem Pride Parade by stabbing her to death, ten years after he stabbed three others at the capital’s 2005 Pride Parade.
Hoffman continued, “And while he’s doing that, the police and the rabbi of the Wall are silent and stand there with their arms folded. The prayer was interrupted in its entirety by yelling, swearing, spitting and whistles against the women praying… All those acts took place without being addressed by the police or the stewards of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.”
She expressed resentment at the arrest of WOW Director Lesley Sachs at last month’s Rosh Chodesh prayers for “disturbing the peace”: “The ‘crime’ that she allegedly committed was reading from a Torah scroll.” Sachs added, “We need to remind the police that their job is to protect the values of equality, not to take the side of thugs.”
In November, two progressive groups petitioned the High Court of Justice for the right to read from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall Plaza and for the cancellation of the restriction on bringing in external scrolls to the holy site. They further requested compensation from the state for the discrimination that they had suffered.
Since then, women have successfully attempted to smuggle in Torah scrolls to the site. A compromise agreement was approved by the government in January after being approved by both the ultra-Orthodox and liberal movements. However, Netanyahu later called for a new agreement to be drafted after being pressured by ultra-Orthodox Jews who rescinded their agreement.