Some 70 activists joined the radical Women of the Wall group for their monthly prayer-protest at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem Sunday – which included reading from a Torah scroll smuggled in by activists beforehand.
Women of the Wall (WoW) have been waging a years-long campaign to challenge normative Jewish practices and halakha (Jewish law) at the Kotel, including by breaking convention at the holy site by conducting Torah readings in the women's section. The group holds a monthly prayer-protest at the start of each Hebrew month; Sunday marks the start of Ellul, the month leading up to the High Holy Days and considered a time for repentance and introspection.
The WoW campaign has continued even after the previous government set aside an area for non-Orthodox prayer, with WoW insisting their fringe practices be permitted in the main section of the Kotel plaza as well.
Sunday's events began at approximately 4 a.m., when a police officer in the women's section noticed a group of Women of the Wall activists, including leader Leslie Zacks, and asked to inspect a bag she was carrying. The activists refused to cooperate, and claimed that such checks contravened a 2013 court ruling in favor of WoW practices at the Kotel.
The activists then called directly to Jerusalem Police Chief Avi Biton, and asked him to intervene to prevent the confiscation of the Torah scroll they were attempting to smuggle into the women's section. Biton, who is currently on vacation, ordered his deputy to deal with the situation, and within an hour the activists were granted permission to remain in the women's section with the Torah scroll.
Later that morning, as worshipers began to arrive for morning prayers, security guards prevented WoW activists from bringing in the traditional shofar rams horns which are sounded at the end of prayers during Ellul. However, after male worshipers sounded the shofar the guards subsequently yielded and allowed WoW activists to do the same.
Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman responded by slamming the "insane" events, stating that "the Israel Police has more important things to do" than prevent her activists from entering the Kotel with Torah scrolls."