Orthodox Jewish men hurled chairs, bottles and fruit at about 50 feminists who worshiped today at the sacred Western Wall, and police fired tear gas to break up the melee, police said.
Orthodox tradition regulates how men and women may worship, and today’s altercation was believed related to past efforts by Jewish feminists to worship freely at the wall.
One woman was slightly injured by a chair that struck her head and neck, police spokesman Uzi Sandori said.
He said no one was arrested in the melee at Judaism’s holiest site, also known as the Wailing Wall.
After the women entered a specified women’s prayer area, Orthodox men stormed the cordoned-off section and threw chairs, fruit and “anything they put their hands on” at the praying women, Sandori said.
Ushers who work at the wall tried to protect the women, but police only began firing tear gas after a woman began bleeding when she was hit by a chair, Sandori said. He said the police did not act earlier because they are not allowed to interfere in a religious area unless called in by the Religious Ministry.
The wall, in Jerusalem’s walled Old City, is the only remaining wall of the ancient Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.
What apparently started today’s melee were fears by ultra-Orthodox worshipers that the group of women who prayed at the wall would repeat past feminist efforts to carry the Bible and wear the prayer shawls worn exclusively by male Jews. Orthodox tradition, which has a virtual monopoly on religious affairs in Israel, prohibits such moves, a Religious Ministry spokesman said.
“If you stick strictly to pure religious law, maybe it is not forbidden. But the chief rabbis of Israel have ruled it is forbidden, and . . . it’s just not acceptable in the nation of Israel,” said Amihud Bahat, ministry spokesman.
However, the women who prayed at the wall today deliberately left their prayer shawls and Bibles at home and did nothing against the rules, he said.