“Today Women of the Wall liberated the Western Wall for all Jewish people. We did it for the 8-year-old girl who can now dream of having her Bat Mitzvah at the wall and for the grandmother who cannot climb on a chair to see her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. We did it for the great diversity of Jews in the world, all of whom deserve to pray according to their belief and custom at the Western Wall."
Stunning Court Ruling Give Sweeping Victory To Women Of The Wall
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
In a ruling that will send shockwaves through haredi society – and through halls of government – Jerusalem’s District Court ruled today that women who pray at the Kotel (Western Wall) wearing tallits (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries) does not violate local custom and can not be called a provocation – and therefore police have no right or justification for detaining or arresting women who do so, Ha’aretz reports.
The court also ruled that there is no law that forbids women from holding women’s only prayer groups at the Kotel, and there is no legal requirement that women’s prayer groups gather at the nearby Robinson’s Arch rather than the Kotel proper to pray. The court was specifically and strongly rejecting the police and Justice Ministry understanding of an almost decade old High Court ruling.
Judge Moshe Sobel – an Orthodox Jew – upheld a ruling handed down two weeks ago by the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court which denied a request by police to bar five women from the Women of the Wall organization from praying at the Kotel for a period of three months after the women had been arrested for wearing tallits and tefillin there.
“There is no reasonable suspicion that the respondents violated a prohibition in the law governing holy sites, an essential component of which is ‘conducting a religious ceremony not according to local custom,’” Sobel wrote, citing previous judicial decisions to support his ruling.
The High Court’s ruling police use to harass these women “is not an order but is instead a recommendation,” Sobel noted, adding that the High Court’s ruling required the state to turn Robinson’s Arch into a proper prayer area within 12 months – a requirement has still not been fulfilled many years later. In light of both these facts “the aforementioned [High Court] verdict should not be seen as an absolute order…the violation of which entails criminal responsibility,” Sobel wrote in his decision.
He also ruled that women praying at the Kotel can not be considered to be disturbing the peace for doing so. Therefore, he ruled, there is no reason at all for police to put limitations on their movement there.
“Today Women of the Wall liberated the Western Wall for all Jewish people. We did it for the 8-year-old girl who can now dream of having her Bat Mitzvah at the wall and for the grandmother who cannot climb on a chair to see her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. We did it for the great diversity of Jews in the world, all of whom deserve to pray according to their belief and custom at the Western Wall,” Women of the Wall head Anat Hoffman reportedly said after the verdict.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who was recently tasked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with finding a solution to the problems of women’s prayer and egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, said the ruling showed the urgency of implementing his solution – which is profoundly discriminatory to the women’s and egalitarian prayer groups, but seemed attractive to them at at time when Israel’s courts seemed to be turing a blind eye to growing police harassment conducted on the order of the Kotel’s haredi rabbi.
“Now that we have an agreed outline, I call on all the sides to move forward and implement it,” Sharansky reportedly said.
Sharansky’s plan calls for extending the existing prayer area south to Robinson’s Arch.
The new, much larger prayer area would include a new section for egalitarian prayer at its far southern end, far away from the traditional prayer area and far away from the areas of the Temple Mount that are deemed most holy.
To make the plan work, the Waqf (the Muslim entity that runs the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount) would have to agree to moving, closing or rebuilding the ramp that leads to the southwestern gate to the Temple Mount. The ramp is solid and completely cuts off what would be the new section of the prayer area from the original Kotel area. (You can see it on the right in the photo posted above.) It is unlikely the Waqf will agree, and that means the decision to move or remove the large ramp would be made by Israel’s security services which are unlikely to approve it because of the Muslim violence it would certainly spark.
Even if the Waqf would do the very unlikely and approve the construction, that construction and the plans needed to be drawn up and approved before it can start would take years to complete.
Sharansky’s plan and the Netanyahu government’s plan is clearly to leave the status quo as it was before the two recent court rulings in place while this process takes place – meaning it could be years before women are actually allowed to pray at the Kotel as they wish.
However, today’s court ruling should mean that the government has no choice but to allow the women to pray as they choose, where they choose now, making Sharansky’s plan an anachronism.
The Netanyahu government will almost certainly appeal today’s decision.
[Hat Tip: Rebbitzman.]