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Men, women expelled from Western Wall for praying together

August 11, 1997

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Police forcibly removed about 120 Conservative Jewish men and women from Judaism’s holiest site Monday because they angered Ultra-Orthodox Jews by praying together.

Some worshipers tripped and fell as police expelled them from the Western Wall plaza.

It was a reflection of the growing power of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel _ and of efforts by the more liberal Reform and Conservative movements to gain recognition in Israel.

The incident took place on the eve of Tisha B’Av, the date of the Jewish calendar that marks the destruction of the Jewish Temple by Romans in 70 A.D.

To mark the day each year, thousands of Jews read the Book of Lamentations at the Wall, the only piece of the Temple still standing.

Men and women pray separately at the Western Wall, in accordance with Orthodox Jewish custom. In the Reform and Conservative movements, men and women pray together.

The Conservative group sat on the ground in the plaza outside the prayer area of the wall, and began to pray, protected by about 30 police.

But 25 Ultra-Orthodox Jews approached and began shouting, ``You should be ashamed of yourselves.″

``These people should not be allowed to pray here,″ said one of the ultra-Orthodox, David Jacknin of New York City. Others shouted: ``Get them out of here.″

An official of the Religious Affairs Ministry, Oded Weiner, told the Conservatives they were breaking the law.

Weiner said they ``have no one to blame but themselves. On Tisha B’Av, of all days, they come here and pray with men and women together, just like Christians.″

Police minister Avigdor Kahalani, who visited the scene, said the police removed the group to avoid the risk of a clash with the Ultra-Orthodox.

The Reform and Conservative movements are dominant among U.S. Jews, but tiny in Israel, where the Orthodox establishment has had a monopoly over religious affairs, including marriage and divorce.

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