JERUSALEM (JTA) — Body searches of female worshippers at the entrance to the Western Wall are “unacceptable,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu asked Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan to look into accusations that at least four female rabbinical students were subjected to body searches while attempting to enter the Western Wall Plaza, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement issued Friday morning.
On Wednesday, the students from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, including two Americans, were asked to lift their shirts and skirts for security before being allowed to enter the Western Wall plaza, where an egalitarian prayer service was being held. The four said they were questioned and pulled aside into a private room.
The women were among a group of 15 rabbinical, cantorial and Jewish education students from North America and Australia who joined about 200 men and women in an egalitarian service held that morning on the plaza behind the men’s and women’s sections. The egalitarian service took place following the monthly rosh chodesh service of the Women of the Wall group.
Erdan told Netanyahu that no complaint had been filed with police, the statement said. Erdan also said that if a complaint is filed, it will be “thoroughly checked.”
Netanyahu and Erdan “agreed that if this indeed took place as described, it is unacceptable and will be addressed in accordance with the law and the instructions of the court,” the statement said.
The Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform movement said Wednesday that it would submit formal complaints about the body searches on the students.
Western Wall security did not say what they were looking for, according to the Israel Religious Action Center. Western Wall officials in the past have detained women and searched for Torah scrolls and other religious items they consider inappropriate for women to bring to the wall.
In January, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that women are not to be subjected to intense body searches when entering the Western Wall.
Leaders of the Reform movement said in a statement Thursday that they sent a letter to Netanyahu calling on the prime minister to “issue a swift and clear denunciation” of what they called the “degrading” searches.