Ten more women have reportedly been arrested at the Kotel (Western Wall) – including comedian Sarah Silverman’s sister and niece, Rabbi Susan Silverman and her daughter 17-year-old Hallel Silverman-Abromowitz.
Updated at 1:10 pm CST
Sarah Silverman’s Sister And Niece Arrested At Western Wall
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Ten more women have been arrested at the Kotel (Western Wall) – including comedian Sarah Silverman’s sister and niece, Rabbi Susan Silverman and her daughter 17-year-old Hallel Silverman-Abromowitz – for wearing tallits (prayer shawls).
Silverman and her daughter were arrested as they walked through the security gate at the far edge of the outer Kotel plaza, the Jerusalem Post reports, as they were headed toward Robinson's arch – the government’s designated area for non-Orthodox and egalitarian prayer services.
The women had prayed peacefully at the Kotel itself at the monthly Rosh Hodesh (new month) Women of the Wall prayer service at the back of the Kotel's approved women's section, and were moving to Robinson’s Arch in order to read from a Torah scroll – an act the government forbids women to do at the Kotel proper. As they walked through the security gate, police separated Silverman and her daughter from the rest of the women and arrested them.
In the various streams of Orthodoxy, tallits are generally worn only by men, although Jewish law allows women to wear them. In non-Orthodox Jewish movements, women are allowed to wear tallits and many choose to do so.
Israeli law and the practice at the Kotel has been tailored to accommodate haredim to the exclusion of the non-Orthodox movements and the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy.
Among the other women arrested today were Women of The Wall’s founder Anat Hoffman, its Executive Director Lesley Sachs, and rabbinical student Lior Nevo – who is eight-months-pregnant.
The women were joined at their service by a number of men who gathered on the men's side of the Kotel prayer area just on the other side of the fence from the women. Among them were six former IDF paratroopers who liberated the Kotel in the 1967 Six Day War. One of them, Dr. Yitzhak Yifat of Jerusalem, is one of the middle of the three soldiers in the iconic photograph of the Wall's liberation taken by David Rubinger, the JTA reported.
"It's unacceptable that the police are stopping women from wearing tallitot, it's like Iran. I can't believe they are stopping people from praying one way or another," Ilon Bar-Tov, one of the paratroopers, told the Post.
About 150 women attended Women of the Wall’s monthly service. Police allowed the prayers to go on even though their usual practice has been to arrest the women as they pray. However, police confiscated tallits from the women as they passed through the security checkpoint on the way into the Kotel, only the second time police have done this.
To get around this, the men smuggled tallits into the Kotel plaza for the women and surreptitiously passed them over the mechitzah, the fence separating the men’s prayer area from the women’s.
After the arrests, in support of the arrested women, Women of the Wall moved its Torah reading to the area immediately in front of the Old City's police station where the arrested women were being held.
Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby told the Post that the women were indeed arrested for wearing “male-style” tallits – black striped, blue striped or white on white striped tallits worn over the shoulders like a shawl.
Police allow women to wear the colorful tallits around the back of the neck and draped down the chest like large scarves. “The moment they put on the other [male tallit] its problematic,” Ben-Ruby said.
A 2003 High Court of Justice ruling bans women from wearing 'men's' tallits at the Kotel in order to curtail haredi violence. But the court made that ruling conditional on the government creating a suitable area at the Kotel for women and non-Orthodox groups to pray. That area had to be properly equipped and roughly equivalent to the main Kotel prayer areas.
The government failed to do this, however. It allows non-Orthodox and women's prayer at Robinson's Arch at the southernmost part of the Kotel far away from the main prayer areas. But that area is not set up for prayer services and is in no way equivalent or roughly equivalent to the main kotel prayer areas.
Women's activists and non-Orthodox groups contend that the High Court's ruling is void as a result.