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Why Deny Women Access to the Western Wall?

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JERUSALEM- In another example of the growing stress of the ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews on Israeli society, you only have to go as far as the Wailing Wall.

Police barricades blocked hundreds of Women of the Wall supporters, a liberal Jewish women's group, who are demanding equality of worship at the Western Wall. The ancient revered wall is one of Jerusalem's holiest sites.

"We have the right to pray at the wall just like anyone else, and they (the ultra-Orthodox community) will get used to us," said the organization's director Lesley Sachs.

Current customs prevent females from wearing prayer shawls and from praying and reading the Torah aloud, as men are permitted to do. The group faces stiff opposition from the Ultra Orthodox community who say prayer shawls and other similar religious items are reserved for men.

The group's estimated 350 members were corralled into a section of the plaza in front of the Western Wall, guarded by lines of police officers and barriers. It's the first time in 25 years the women have been prevented from holding their monthly limited service at the wall.

"It is simply wrong," said one of the group's supporters Ellyn Bender. "Cage them, as well as create a space for us."

About 1,000 ultra-Orthodox men gathered on the opposite side of the barricades, chanting and yelling profanities at the women. Midway through the service two ultra-Orthodox women charged their way through the crowd blowing their whistles to drown out the prayers. Some also threw eggs at the women seeking fairer treatment at the wall.

The opposition's behaviour, said Bender, was inappropriate.

"For them to be yelling things like prostitute at us is completely un-holy and un-Jewish."

The unprecedented police action to restrict the group's access was a necessary security measure, said Israeli Police Spokeswoman Kagit Rapapore. The decision, she said, had nothing to do with religion or politics, but with over-crowding in the women's section of the wall. As many as 7,000 young Orthodox women were out in support of their community.

The group's director repudiated the police's statement, saying there was enough space for them to pray.

The movement got a significant boost last April after a Jerusalem District Court Judge ruled the liberal women were not violating a high court ruling by wearing prayer shawls and reciting the Torah aloud at the Western Wall.

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