History was made on Wednesday when the high court of Israel issued a ruling that appears to support Women’s Torah reading at the Kotel. This decision, although not finalized yet because the state has 30 days to show cause, is certainly cause for celebration.

The decision was rendered jointly for three very similar law suits relating to women’s rights at the Kotel. One of the petitions was filed over a year ago jointly by four members of Tefilat Nashim BaKotel and the Center for Women’s Justice. The suite is about the Kotel administrator Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz’s blocking women from reading Torah in complete defiance of the 2013 Sobel decision to allow women to pray in the Women’s section with tallit, tefilian and with a Sefer Torah (something that is impossible to do when women are not allowed access to a Sefer Torah). The later cases referred to the governments’ failure to implement the decision to build a third section of the Kotel for pluralistic prayer and the violation of women’s civil rights at the Kotel by having to submit to a humiliating body search and extra security checks.

In the past three years, we have witnessed improvement in the women’s religious rights and then a significant deterioration due to haredi pressure against the government’s negotiated and approved decision to build a third section and the increasing harassment of women at the Kotel in terms of body searches and the violence perpetrated by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation employees. The body searches and extra levels of security were implemented in retaliation for Women of the Wall’s ability to smuggle Torah scrolls in almost every month.

On Rosh Hodesh Kislev, after finding that I was not packing a concealed Torah, they tried to confiscate my tallit and kippa. They also tried to refuse entry to women bringing menorahs to light for Hanukah. These items evidently constitute a significant danger to the haredi stranglehold of religion and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition.

The ruling is very significant because it states that since the government never implemented the plan for the third section, Robinson’s Arch cannot be considered full access to the Kotel and this backs the same reasoning that was used in the Sobel decision. It would seem the Haredi leaderships intransigence has come back to bite them.

The court also ruled that the employees have to immediately stop the full body searches on women entering the Kotel and are limited to normative security checks.

Regarding Torah reading, the court ruled that there are conflicting decisions pro and con, so the state has 30 days to show why women should not be allowed to read Torah at the Kotel. I am sure that the tired old excuses that it may offend other worshipers or that it will cause the haredim to riot will be used.

The haredim have already promised a violent confrontation in an opinion piece in Hamodia aptly titled “A provocative Ruling for Provocative Women. The article went on to say that the court is siding with the New Israel Fund and the Reform movement against the people who come day and night to pray at the Kotel. Besides calling for riots that the police will not be able to control, the article ended with an open threat to dissolve the coalition.

On Thursday, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Minister David Azoulay from Shas – yes the one who has been making virulent comments condemning Reform Judaism –  denounced the court’s decision and said that his party will pass a law to criminalize all non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel, including Robinson’s Arch.

But the facts on the ground are that a majority of Israeli’s support non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel and believe that women should be able to read from a Sefer Torah at the site. Hiddush, an advocacy and public education organization, released the findings of a recent telephone poll regarding women’s Torah reading at the Kotel. They found that 62 percent of Israelis are in favor of allowing women to read; the figure for secular Israeli’s is 82 percent.

For now, this provocative woman is going to celebrate.

 

 

 

 


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