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Comedian Sarah Silverman's sister, niece detained at Israel's Western Wall

By Sara Sidner, CNN
February 14, 2013 -- Updated 0049 GMT (0849 HKT)
Israeli police arrest American Rabbi Susan Silverman (L) and her teenage daughter Hallel Abramowitz (C) on Monday.
Israeli police arrest American Rabbi Susan Silverman (L) and her teenage daughter Hallel Abramowitz (C) on Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 10 women were detained for "performing a religious act contrary to the local customs"
  • The women were wearing shawls that only men are allowed to use at the wall
  • Women of the Wall calls for equal wall access for all Jewish practices and denominations
  • The group says that only in the past 22 months have police detained or arrested the women

(CNN) -- Anat Hoffman had no idea who comedian Sarah Silverman was until Silverman's sister and niece were detained with her Sunday in Jerusalem for wearing prayer shawls as they prayed at the Western Wall.

Police detained 10 women for "performing a religious act contrary to the local customs." The group of women, who call themselves the Women of the Wall, went to pray in Jewish shawls known as tallitot that Israeli law says only Jewish men can wear there.

"There are lots of forbidden acts at the Western Wall: Do not spit on the wall, do not pee on the wall, no slaughtering of animals at the wall, and among those one cannot perform a religious act contrary to local customs at the wall, which pretty much only applies to women because there are no local customs men are forbidden from taking part in," Hoffman said. She heads the Women of the Wall group and was a city councilwoman for 14 years.

Women of the Wall says it wants equal access for all Jewish practices and denominations at the holiest site for prayer in Judaism.

About 100 women, including Hoffman and Susan Silverman, who is a Reform rabbi, went to the wall property to pray for Adar, the 12th month of the Jewish year, and 10 of them went down to the Western Wall itself. They were detained as they were leaving the premises after they prayed.

"There is a designated place where they can wear the shawl on the property of the Western Wall but not at the wall itself," Israeli Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told CNN.

"Ten of the 100 women with the group came and prayed at the Western Wall. They were detained and released after a couple of hours and given a warning they have to stay away from the wall for 15 days. We take our orders from a High Court decision. Until there is another decision or change, those are our clear orders."

In 2003, Israel's High Court said the women could pray and read from the Torah while wearing the shawls at a different location on the property near the wall, but it did allow them at the Western Wall itself, the organization's attorney said.

When Sarah Silverman heard what her sister and the other women were detained for, she was quick to respond with a tweet that said:

"So proud of my amazing sister and niece for their balls out civil disobedience. Ur the tits!"

Comedian Silverman's representatives sent this response to the incident to CNN:

"I don't care much for people who use religion as a cloak to justify hatred, injustice and fear. And I can't imagine God, should He or She or It exist, does either. I am so proud of my sister and niece for fighting for what they believe in -- by having the nerve to pray at a Wall of prayer while being female."

Women are allowed to pray at the Western Wall. The 10 women were detained Sunday for wearing the shawls.

Women of the Wall members have gone to the wall wearing prayer shawls for 24 years. But the organizers said it was just in the past 22 months that police have detained or arrested them.

For years, the women say, ushers who work at the wall, not police, were the ones who moved them away.

Over the past 22 months, they said, one woman has been arrested and more than 40 detained.

Hoffman said she was the one arrested. She said she was handcuffed at the hands and feet when she was taken to jail last year and spent 24 hours there. She refused to sign a police declaration that said she was guilty of breaking the law, and she did not agree to refrain from such actions again.

"It was 24 hours of hell," she said.

This time around, she and the other women were only held at the police station, not taken to jail. But this won't be the last time they try to do what they think they should be allowed to do at the Western Wall.

Hoffman said that at first, she didn't know that a famous U.S. comedian's sister was part of the group.

"I had no idea who Sarah Silverman was, but I do now. She is one funny woman. I had no idea they'd let a woman talk like that in the U.S." she said as she laughed.

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