On November 18, 2009, for the first time in Women of the Wall’s 21 years of praying at the Women’s Section, the police arrested one of the worshipers for wrapping herself in a prayer shawl and holding a Torah scroll. According to Anat Hoffman, this arrest was the archimedean point that caused the wave of change in favor of Women of the Wall in public opinion and in the media. The arrest took place at a particular moment when there were several more incidents of exclusion of women by Haredi society and the Israeli public began to lose patience.
In June 2010, during the Rosh Chodesh Av service, police arrested Anat Hoffman, head of the board, for holding a Torah scroll. Anat was arrested again three months later (October 2010) because of a joint event held by Women of the Wall with Hadassah Women’s Organization. She spent the night in incommunicado detention and filed a complaint about painful shackling and humiliating treatment by police officers.
The next morning, October 17, the Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan prayer was held. The police arrested Lesley Sachs, director of the organization, and Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, a member of the board. They were released but were asked to admit the offense of disturbance to public safety. They both refused.
The harassment and arrests have continued, and on January 5, 2010, Anat Hoffman was arrested and interrogated. Fingerprints were taken and she was warned that she would be accused of wearing a prayer shawl at the Western Wall.
In May 2012, the police detained for several hours three women who wore a prayer shawl during Rosh Chodesh Sivan.
On June 21, 2012, during the Rosh Chodesh Tammuz prayer service, the police demanded from one of WOW’s supporters to wear a tallit as a veil rather than a tallit, she did so but still was arrested and detained for several hours. In the interrogation she was told that she was forbidden to approach the Western Wall for seven days, and that if she did not obey her she would be fined NIS 3000.
On Rosh Chodesh Elul 2012, the police arrested four supporters of the organization who wore a traditional prayer shawl (with black or blue stripes) on the pretext that they were disturbing the public welfare by holding a religious ceremony that “offends others feelings.”
During the Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan prayer service, October 2012, police arrested again Lesley Sachs, director of Women of the Wall, and Rachel Cohen Yeshurun. They were released but were asked to admit the offense of disturbance to public safety. They both refused.
A month later, November 2012 During the Rosh Chodesh Kislev prayer service the police arrested again Lesley Sachs and Rachel Cohen Yeshurun for wearing a tallit. Later, the police detained four additional supporters. They were asked to receive a restraining order from the Wall for five days.
The arrest that brought about an especially dramatic change in the media arena was in December 2012: After many months in which Women of the Wall were arrested and required to follow new and strict police orders, four women were arrested, including Alice Frishman, an important Reform leader in the United States and the editor of the Reform prayer book. Frishman came to the women’s Section with a tallit, but a policeman who was there demanded that she remove it. “I said that I do not understand, I am not breaking any law, neither Israeli nor Jewish,” she said. She was delayed for three hours and was finally required to sign a commitment not to visit the Wall for 15 days. She refused and was released with a warning that if she violated the prohibition, she would pay a 3000 NIS fine.
The women who were arrested, Rachel Cohen-Yeshurun,a board member, two young women members of the Netzer organization and Rabbi Elyse Frishman refused to sign a confession to “disturbance to the public peace” and were released after three hours. This arrest aroused considerable media attention in Israel and abroad and led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to recognize the importance of a quick and fair solution to the Western Wall conflict. He asked Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to examine the issue. However, the wave of arrests did not stop and in February 2013, 10 women were arrested for wearing a tallit.
On April 10, 2013, Natan Sharansky presented his solution to the issue of the Western Wall. At the same time, the Israel Police announced that it would not allow women to wear a prayer shawl at the Western Wall. On the following day, April 11, 2013, during Rosh Chodesh Iyar prayer services, five women were arrested for wearing a prayer shawl. They were brought before the Magistrate’s Court judge, Sharon Larry Bavli, who said that she saw no reason to arrest them. In a precedent-setting decision, Justice Bavli declared that there was no disturbance to public safety in the prayers of the women of the Western Wall.
What led to the end of the wave of arrests against Women of the Wall is the judgment of Justice Sobel. After Judge Larry-Bavli’s ruling, the police appealed the decision and the matter was brought before the District Court on April 25, 2013. Judge Moshe Sobol did not accept the police appeal and supported Judge Larry-Bavli’s decision that there was no reason for the arrest and the women did not disturb the public in their prayers.
He also claimed that the ruling did not forbid Western women from praying at the Western Wall. Referring to the recommendation that women of the Wall pray at Robinson’s Arch, he argued that this does not prohibit the prayer of women at the Women’s Section, and that their prayer is not an offense. Referring to the limitation of the Law of the Holy Places on the Western Wall’s prayer according to “local custom,” Sobol said that the custom of the place should be interpreted in a national and pluralistic manner, and not necessarily according to Orthodox Jewish practice.