Thursday, May 28, 2020

Is what might mark the start of a new era at the Kotel, the Jerusalem District Court made an unprecedented ruling last Thursday, stating that in its previous decision, Israel’s High Court of Justice never forbade activists of the “Women of the Wall” group from praying in the women’s section of the Kotel, meaning the women could not be barred from the premises.

Israeli police contend that the women, who have been coming to the Kotel once a month, on every Rosh Chodesh, for years, in efforts to fight for the right of women to worship as they see fit, are in violation of a High Court of Justice ruling from 2003 forbidding women from wearing prayer shawls and reading aloud from the Torah in the main Kotel area. According to the original court decision, the women’s insistence on wearing prayer shawls and reading from the Torah deviates from the Kotel “tradition” and upsets the other worshippers.

On April 11, five of the women were arrested at the Kotel, but a Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court released them later that day, rejecting the police’s demand to ban them from entering the site for the next three months. The police appealed the decision, and on Thursday, the Jerusalem District Court rejected the appeal, essentially upholding the original court decision and opening the way for the women to return to the Kotel without restriction.

In his ruling, Judge Moshe Sobel wrote that there was no reasonable suspicion that the suspects committed a crime by holding a religious ceremony in violation of the “tradition” of the site. With that, he touched on another sore point and ruled that the guiding concept of the “tradition of the site” has to be interpreted in a nationalist, pluralistic manner, which doesn’t necessarily adhere to the ultra-Orthodox point of view.

In addition, the court ruled that there was no basis to the allegation that the Women of the Wall activists posed a danger to the safety of the public. The concern that the public would become so upset as to disturb the peace or the safety of the worshippers, without any supporting evidence indicating that the suspects (Women of the Wall) would cause such a disruption, provides no basis to believe that they pose any kind of danger.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel, was not pleased with the court’s decision, but urged all sides to act responsibly. He did, however, warn last Friday that he would demand that the attorney general of Israel examine the implications of the court’s decision, specifically regarding the High Court.

“The Western Wall is the last unifying place that we have,” Rabinovitch wrote in a statement. “It is easy to spark emotions and contention on the Wall plaza. It is much harder to find the middle ground that will allow everyone to continue to feel welcome and wanted at the Western Wall. I beseech the state authorities and the silent majority and anyone who holds the Western Wall dear to prevent zealots from all sides from turning the Western Wall into a battleground between brothers.”

Following the court’s ruling, Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of the Women of the Wall, said, “This is a day of celebration, of the re-liberation of the Western Wall. And liberation brings tidings of equality.”

Rabbi Uri Regev, the president of the nonprofit organization Hiddush - For Religious Freedom and Equality, said that the ruling “makes it clear that the real danger is posed by the state, not by the Women of the Wall.”

Attorney Yizhar Hess, the executive director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, said, “The court’s decision is a victory for common sense, and a wake-up call for the Israel Police, which has become a pawn in the hands of the Western Wall rabbi in recent years. Liberate the Western Wall immediately.”

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Israel Hayom, whose English-language content is distributed exclusively in the U.S. by JNS.org.

By Edna Adato/JNS.org