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Woman strips at Western Wall, apparently in protest of shelved Shas bill

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrapped the controversial legislation the same day it was announced.

The Western Wall plaza with the Dome of the Rock in the background in Jerusalem's Old City, Dec. 23, 2021. Photo by Lee Aloni/Flash90.
The Western Wall plaza with the Dome of the Rock in the background in Jerusalem's Old City, Dec. 23, 2021. Photo by Lee Aloni/Flash90.

A woman stripped to her underwear at the Western Wall plaza on Sunday, apparently in protest of a proposed law put forward by the Shas Party to criminalize “inappropriate behavior” at the holy site including immodest dress.

Police detained the young woman for questioning and public indecency.

The woman demonstrated even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrapped the controversial bill the same day it was announced on Feb. 9. A photographer was reportedly informed ahead of time about her plan and accompanied her to the Western Wall, filming the scene as it took place.

In a video posted to social media on Thursday, the prime minister addressed the outpouring of criticism regarding the proposal: “I read this morning the headlines about the Kotel [Western Wall]. I would like to calm things down and clarify: The status quo of the Western Wall, which is dear to all the Jewish people, will remain exactly as it is today.

“I spoke with my colleagues in the coalition [who agreed] that the bill we’re talking about won’t be put up [for a vote] at this time and, if it had been put up, it wouldn’t include the sections on criminal trespasses regarding clothing or musical instruments. Those sections were written 40 years ago and they’re not acceptable to anyone. Therefore, the Kotel will remain exactly as it is today,” Netanyahu said.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy places of Israel, said, “We are horrified by the despicable act of provocation this morning at the Western Wall plaza, which desecrated the holiness of the site and deeply offended the public and worshipers. The Western Wall is a sacred site for every Jew and Jewess. It is not a place for dispute or provocation of any kind.”

Shas also distanced itself from the bill. “We welcome the prime minister’s announcement that the status quo at the Western Wall will be maintained as it was until today. The Wall does not need any law,” the party said in a statement on Thursday.

Shas said it had only introduced the legislation due to a requirement imposed by the Supreme Court that wouldn’t accept a delay in the state’s response to petitions concerning the recognition of an egalitarian prayer space and mixed-gender prayer in the main plaza.

“After the prime minister informed the heads of the political parties today that he intends to submit a response that means postponing the debate, we agreed to withdraw the bill,” Shas said.

“Shas never intended to impose criminal penalties on clothing or musical instruments at the Western Wall. This is cheap demagoguery. These sections are a copy of the Western Wall regulations from 1980 and they would have been removed by the [Knesset] committee [before a final vote on the bill]. Every sane person understands this,” the party added.

The shelved legislation defined inappropriate behavior as conducting mixed prayer (men and women together), playing a musical instrument, inappropriate clothing and smoking.

Anyone who violated one of the provisions could have received a six-month prison sentence or be ordered to pay a fine of 10,000 shekels ($2,800).

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