Women of the Wall is close to reaching an agreement with the government that likely will include a clause that will annul the regulations in the Law of the Holy Places that have been used for decades to stop WoW from praying as they saw fit at the Kotel (Western Wall) and to criminalize their attempts to do so. But the deal also allegedly gives haredim control over the Kotel and allows them to determine which type of prayer is acceptable there and which are not.
Women Of The Wall Close To Deal With Government
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Women of the Wall is close to reaching an agreement with the government that likely will include a clause that will annul the regulations in the Law of the Holy Places that have been used for decades to stop WoW from praying as they saw fit at the Kotel (Western Wall) and to criminalize their attempts to do so, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The regulations of the Law of the Holy Places prevent religious ceremonies that are not conducted in accordance with “local custom” – interpreted to mean Orthodox practice by police and the haredim who effectively control the Kotel. Those regulations also prohibit conduct that offends the sensibilities of others.
Haredim used these regulations to have WoW members arrested for praying out loud in the women’s section of the Kotel proper, even though halakha arguably permits it.
However, the very same agreement WoW is close to signing with the government not only annuls those regulations – it is is also likely include a stipulation allowing haredi Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the official rabbi of the Kotel, the power to determine what “local custom” at the Kotel is.
This would effectively bar WoW from conducting public prayer at the Western Wall proper while at the same time removing the only actual legal impediment preventing them from doing so – a situation that would allow WoW’s current leaders to claim victory.
However, many of WoW’s original members oppose WoW’s current leadership and want to be able to pray at the Kotel proper.
The new agreement, if constructed as reported, would most likely prevent them from doing so – an odd position to be in because, in ruling last April, Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Sobel ruled that “local custom” could not legally be defined as Orthodox practice only. Sobel also ruled that WoW had to be allowed to pray at the Kotel proper in tallits (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries) and conduct prayer services as they choose. Sobel also reprimanded police for arresting and harassing WoW members while refusing to arrest or control haredi rioters who attack WoW.
WoW’s current leadership appears ready to give up those rights in exchange for considerations that include some control over a new egalitarian prayer area at Robinson’s Arch – separated from the Kotel proper by the Mughrabi bridge and other obstacles.
Most of WoW’s current leadership is Reform or Conservative and many live in Israel. Many of WoW’s longtime members, however, are Orthodox and live in the diaspora.
Earlier this month, WoW’s founder, Bonna Devora Haberman, and longtime member Cheryl Birkner Mack told the government they will not agree to pray at the new egalitarian prayer area. Approximately a dozen longtime members of WoW agree with Haberman.
Haberman also reportedly fears that new agreement if signed will effectively void last April’s court decision and set back women’s rights 25 years, to the time she founded WoW.