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Aggressive searches of women at Western Wall criticized

By
Eric DuVall
Jewish women pray at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in the Old City of Jerusalem in June. The role of women at the site has been a point of contention between liberal and orthodox Jews. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
Jewish women pray at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in the Old City of Jerusalem in June. The role of women at the site has been a point of contention between liberal and orthodox Jews. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday condemned officials overseeing the Western Wall for invasive body searches of four female rabbinical students.

The incident happened Wednesday, when four women who were part of a controversial monthly egalitarian prayer service known as Women of the Wall, were pulled aside by officials as they sought to enter the Western Wall Plaza. The women were taken to a private room, questioned and made to lift their shirts and skirts before they were granted entry.

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The women, two of whom are American, are members of the liberal Reform branch of Judaism, which allows women to serve as rabbis and generally disregards separate male/female customs observed by Orthodox Jews.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the holy site, prohibits women from leading prayer services at the Wall. The Western Wall is divided into male and female sections with different rules for what men and women can carry. Western Wall officials have in the past searched female worshippers to see whether they were carrying religious items such as Torah scrolls to prevent them from leading prayer groups there.

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In January, Israel's High Court of Justice ruled such searches were illegal.

In response to complaints from the umbrella group representing Reform Jews, Netanyahu said the searches were "unacceptable" and ordered the nation's security minister to investigate the matter.

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