Middle East

Scuffles break out at Jerusalem's Western Wall

Yizhar Hess, head of the Conservative Movement in Israel ,holds a Torah scroll during scuffles by the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City on 2 November 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Orthodox Jews believe women should pray in a separate area from men at the Western Wall

Scuffles have broken out at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City between followers of liberal streams of Judaism and Orthodox Jews.

Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements joined a civil disobedience prayer service held by a group called Women of the Wall on Wednesday.

It campaigns for the right of women to perform the same rituals as men there.

But when they approached the holy site, Orthodox Jews tried to block them and grab Torah scrolls they were carrying.

According to Israel's Haartez newspaper, police had issued special permits allowing the group to bring Torah scrolls, but had not given advance notice to the site's Orthodox administrators.

"We will not forfeit our right to be here," Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told Haaretz. "We will change this place. We will change this country and make this a home for all Jewish people."

The Western Wall is a remnant of the retaining wall of the compound which contained two Biblical Jewish temples, and is one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

The compound is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).

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Media captionRabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz explains why Jerusalem's Western Wall is so important to the Jewish faith

According to Orthodox Jewish beliefs, women should pray in a separate area from men at the Western Wall, and should not read aloud from holy texts or wear religious garments.

"Women of the Wall today offended thousands of male and female worshippers when they held a mixed prayer protest in the women's section, and debased Torah scrolls," said Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall.

Earlier this year, the Israeli cabinet approved a new space for mixed prayer. But Women of the Wall says it has not been created because of pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Wednesday's "unfortunate incident" would "not help advance a solution for prayer arrangements".

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