Israel holds 10 women for wearing prayer shawls at holy site

Reuters Middle East

* Orthodox law supreme at Jerusalem's Western Wall

* Women activists hold monthly prayer sessions at site

JERUSALEM, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Israeli police detained 10

women at one of Judaism's most sacred sites on Monday for

wearing prayer shawls, which Orthodox tradition sees as solely

for men, a spokesman said.

The incident at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City

highlighted the divisions between the more liberal streams of

Judaism and politically powerful Orthodox groups that

traditionally limit the role of women in prayer.

The Western Wall is administered under strict Orthodox

ritual law, which bars women from wearing prayer shawls or

publicly reading from the holy scriptures.

Among those held was Susan Silverman, a reform rabbi who is

a sister of U.S. comedian Sarah Silverman. Two other American

citizens and Israeli members of "Women of the Wall", a group

that campaigns for gender equality in religious practice, were

also detained.

The group routinely convenes for monthly prayer sessions at

the Western Wall, revered by Jews as a perimeter wall of the

Biblical Temple in Jerusalem. Some of its members have been

detained by police in the past for wearing prayer shawls at the

site and released without charge.

Susan Silverman, who immigrated to Israel from Boston, said

police escorted the group, including her 17-year-old daughter,

to a station after they refused to remove prayer shawls.

The rabbi said in a telephone interview from the police

station where the group was held that they had been among more

than 100 women attending the hour-long prayer session.

"They (police) said 'take off your prayer shawls', and we

said 'no'," Silverman said. Once the prayers were over they were

escorted away, she said.

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for national police, said the

women had acted "against regulations set by the High Court",

citing a decision of a decade ago upholding Orthodox rules at

the site to avoid friction between worshippers.

Silverman said the Orthodox tradition barring women from

wearing prayer shawls amounted to "spitting on Sinai", naming

the site where the Bible says God handed the ancient Israelite

leader Moses the 10 Commandments.

"All Jews are in a covenant with God," regardless of their

gender, she said.

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Alison Williams)

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