Expanded seven-judge panel to hear Western Wall petitions

The progressive Jewish movements and the Women of the Wall organization have petitioned the court.

January 13, 2018 20:17
2 minute read.
A general view shows Jewish worshippers taking part in the priestly blessing during the Jewish holid

A general view shows Jewish worshippers taking part in the priestly blessing during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

An expanded seven-justice panel of the High Court of Justice will hold a hearing on Sunday on petitions regarding prayer arrangements at the Western Wall.

The progressive Jewish movements and the Women of the Wall organization have petitioned the court to either force the government to implement a now-frozen cabinet resolution to create a state-recognized egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall or an egalitarian section at the main Western Wall plaza.

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Since the resolution was indefinitely suspended in June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued that central clauses to the agreement, including a shared entrance to the entire site and representation for the progressive movements on the administrative committee, are ideological and unnecessary.

Instead, he promised that physical upgrades to the current egalitarian site at the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall would be made to make the site more suitable for prayer.

In the government’s response to the petitions in July, it said specifically that NIS 19 million is being invested in the site, and that because of this pending investment, the court should refrain from acceding to the demands made in the High Court petitions.

Apparently, the government’s thinking is that if the physical condition of the current egalitarian site is improved, it will weaken arguments that progressive Jews have worse conditions and access to the holy site than Orthodox Jews.

During the last hearing in August, then-Supreme Court president Miriam Naor was especially critical of the cabinet for having frozen the original resolution, which took nearly four years to negotiate, but was suspended due to pressure from the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) political parties who got cold feet on the deal after they faced a public backlash from Haredi media and prominent rabbis.

“Things that are frozen can be thawed,” she said, adding that “the agreement was a fitting solution, freezing it is not a legal concept.”

Demands by the progressive movements for increased prayer access at the Western Wall has upset not just Haredi leaders, but National Religious rabbis and politicians as well.
Violent scuffles break out again at the Western Wall, November 16, 2017. (The Israel Movement For Reform And Progressive Judaism)

Last week, 100 senior National Religious and Haredi rabbis signed a letter calling on the High Court not to accede to the demands of the petitioners, including Rabbis Haim Druckman, Dov Lior, Zvi Tau, Aryeh Stern and Shmuel Eliyahu.

“The great and holy awe that Jews throughout the generations have felt toward the remnants of our Temple certainly obligate us to continue to behave with respect and holiness at the Western Wall, along its entire length, and in accordance with the Chief Rabbinate,” wrote the rabbis. “Non-holy activity should not be allowed, all the more so disgraceful and light behavior, and behavior which is not commensurate with Jewish law and Jewish traditions at the Western Wall, from which the Divine Spirit has never departed.”

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