Scuffles have broken out at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City between followers of liberal streams of Judaism and Orthodox Jews.
Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements joined monthly prayers held by a group called Women of the Wall.
It campaigns for the right of women to perform the same rituals as men there.
But when members of the group approached the holy site on Wednesday, Orthodox Jews tried to block them and grab Torah scrolls they were carrying.
“We will not forfeit our right to be here,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. “We will change this place. We will change this country and make this a home for all Jewish people.”
The Western Wall is a remnant of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount compound, the site of two Biblical Jewish temples. The compound is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).
According to Orthodox Jewish beliefs, women should pray in a separate area from men at the Western Wall, and should not read aloud from holy texts, sing or wear religious garments.
“Women of the Wall today offended thousands of male and female worshippers when they held a mixed prayer protest in the women’s section, and debased Torah scrolls,” said Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall.
Earlier this year, the Israeli cabinet approved a new space for mixed prayer. But Women of the Wall says it has not been created because of pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Wednesday’s “unfortunate incident” would “not help advance a solution for prayer arrangements”.
Scuffles break out at Jerusalem’s Western Wall}