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Israel detains women over prayer practices

Five women wearing prayer shawls reserved for men detained at Western Wall day after mixed-gender section is proposed.

Last Modified: 11 Apr 2013 09:37
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Some ultra-Orthodox Jews oppose moves to allow women and men to pray together at the Western Wall [EPA]

Israeli police have arrested five women at the Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites, for wearing prayer shawls and amulets - observances which Orthodox tradition sees as solely for men.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said about 120 woman arrived for their monthly prayer service on Thursday and five were detained for wearing the tallits (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries).

Those arrested were part of the "Women of the Wall" group which campaigns for gender equality in religious practice.

They routinely convene for prayer sessions around the start of each month at the Western Wall, revered by Jews as a perimeter wall of the Biblical Temple in Jerusalem, and several are routinely arrested and often released without charge.

The site, under strict Orthodox ritual law, bars women from wearing the religious clothing or publicly reading from the holy scriptures and is divided into men's and women's sections.

Orthodox rabbis, who control Israel's religious institutions, oppose mixed prayers.

Mixed-gender section

The latest round of arrests come a day after Israeli authorities proposed a compromise to diffuse tensions by establishing a new section at the site where men and women can pray together.

"One Western Wall for one Jewish people," said Natan Sharansky, chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency and mastermind of the proposal.

He expressed hope that the site "will once again be a symbol of unity among the Jewish people, and not one of discord and strife".

The new proposal still needs government approval.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who heads Israel's Reform Jewish movement, said that the proposal could become a watershed moment for liberal Judaism.

"If the Israeli government embraces the solution, I think it's a breakthrough of relations between the Israeli government and the progressive Jewish world," Kariv said.

He said he believed "there are good chances" that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's new cabinet, which does not include any ultra-Orthodox parties, will support the plan.

During Thursday's arrest, police also picked up an ultra-Orthodox man for setting alight a religious pamphlet, Haaretz said.

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