Women of the Wall hold prayer service without Torah scroll

JERUSALEM (JTA) – The Women of the Wall group blew shofars to celebrate the new month of Elul and held a bat mitzvah, though without a Torah to read from, during morning services at the Western Wall.

A Torah scroll brought by the group for use on the women’s side of the prayer section was confiscated by officials at the security entrance to the wall Sunday morning. Some 60 women took part in the service.

Women of the Wall board member Rachel Cohen-Yeshurun tried to take a Torah scroll from the more than 100 on the men’s side, but was stopped by plain-clothes police officers and escorted out of the plaza, according to Women of the Wall.

Cohen-Yeshurun said in a statement posted on Facebook that she was “a bit bruised and shaken” following the incident.

“I’m the gabait of the service – the gabai is the one responsible in every synagogue and congregation in the world for making sure there is a Torah scroll for the service – so I said to my colleagues on the board – I’m going to go to where the Torah scrolls are kept and ask for one – preferably already rolled to the Rosh Chodesh parsha. Sounds reasonable, no?” she wrote on Facebook.

Cohen-Yeshurun said she walked into the men’s section and “asked some people where the Torah scrolls are kept, – it’s a bit confusing the first time – there are 3 different rooms there on the left – still not sure which one is the right place to get a Torah scroll, because before I knew it I was surrounded by some very angry, pushing, kicking, spitting men. And then two undercover police dragged me away.”

Haredi Orthodox women attempted to disrupt the morning service for the new month by screaming, spitting and blowing whistles. They were stopped by ushers wearing florescent vests, who formed a barrier between the protesters and the Women of the Wall.

Police protection for the group was increased from last month after the women appealed to Israel’s attorney general, citing a fear for their safely.

The group’s director Lesley Sachs, 58, celebrated an adult bat mitzvah at the Western Wall, though she could not be called to read from the Torah.

In the past, Women of the Wall has smuggled a mini-Torah scroll into the women’s section. During another service, male supporters of the group hoisted a scroll over the divider between the men’s and women’s sections, encountering violent opposition.

In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallit prayer shawls, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, saying it violated “local custom.” Three years ago, a judge determined that the group’s activities were not illegal, and women have not been detained over wearing prayer shawls for several months.

Women of the Wall has held a special prayer service at the holy site nearly every month for the last 20 years on Rosh Chodesh, or the beginning of a new Hebrew month, at the back of the women’s section.

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