High Court demands update on upgrades to Western Wall egalitarian section

Women of the Wall’s prayer services for the New Moon have been the subject of severe harassment by Orthodox protestors, including the mass use of whistles, shrieking, cursing and physical violence.

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January 15, 2018 15:35
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MEMBERS OF THE World Union for Progressive Judaism pray in the Western Wall plaza. (photo credit: YEHUDIT HOFMAN)

 
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The High Court of Justice is demanding that the state notify the court by April 15 regarding progress on upgrading the current egalitarian section at the southern end of the Western Wall.

The requests came after a marathon four-and-a-half-hour hearing in the High Court on Sunday about the petitions of several groups regarding prayer arrangements at the holy site.

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The court also demanded that the state inform it as to what measures are being taken to prevent “disturbances of the public order and problematic incidents,” including during the monthly prayer services of the Women of the Wall organization.

In its list of demands, the court said that the state needs to inform it by April 15 as to what progress it has made on physical upgrades to the current egalitarian site.

This request further illustrates the court’s seeming willingness to accept a plan by the Prime Minister’s Office to improve the physical structure and facilities at the current egalitarian section, known as Robinson’s Arch, without implementing the critical clauses of the now-frozen 2016 government resolution on the Western Wall.

The Prime Minister’s Office began to advance its plan for physical upgrades to the egalitarian section without either the shared entrance to the main Western Wall complex or progressive Jewish participation in its management, which were stipulated in the 2016 agreement following its indefinite suspension in June 2017.

It appears that the plan was designed to appease the progressive movements for the suspension of the more comprehensive plan, and assuage the court’s requirement that progressive Jewish denominations and others enjoy equal access to the Western Wall compared to that of Orthodox worshipers.

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Comments made by the justices during Sunday’s hearing gave the impression that this is the court’s preferred solution.
In addition, the court requested “an update as to the measures being taken to prevent disturbances of the public order and problematic incidents like those seen in the videos [shown in the Sunday’s High Court hearing], including, among others, the prayer services for the New Moon which happen at the Western Wall.”

For many months, Women of the Wall’s prayer services for the New Moon have been the object of severe harassment by Orthodox protestors, including the mass use of whistles, shrieking, cursing and even physical violence against worshipers.

The worshipers have long complained that the police have failed to intervene and prevent such harassment despite it being a criminal violation of the law, while alleging that orderlies of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation also do not do enough to prevent the harassment.

However, the court’s demands did not explicitly state that it was concerned specifically about the harassment of the Women of the Wall services – referring to videos shown during Sunday’s hearing, which included footage of progressive Jewish prayer groups forcing their way into the Western Wall plaza with Torah scrolls, as well as Women of the Wall using a Torah scroll they smuggled into the site, against current regulations.

The court also demanded to know who erected a high, solid barrier along the main entrance to the Western Wall which totally blocks the view of the egalitarian section – and why it was erected. The progressive movements and Women of the Wall allege that the administrator of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, did so in order to prevent the public from even seeing the egalitarian site.

The court also requested information regarding the process of amending and adding regulations to the Law for the Protection of the Holy Places, in particular the requirement to take consultations when amending this law.

Following the issuance of the court’s requests, Attorney Susan Weiss of the Center for Women’s Justice said that the court has not been sufficiently strident in its efforts to halt the harassment of women at the Western Wall.

“The Court has still not made it clear that it is the hecklers, spitters and those committing violence at the Wall who are the ones disturbing the public order and defiling the sanctity of the Western Wall, not the women who come to pray there,” said Weiss, who represents the original Women of the Wall organization in its petition to the High Court for guaranteed access to the women’s section of the central Western Wall plaza and the right for women to read from the Torah there.

“We expect the highest court in the land to stand up unequivocally when civil liberties of women are grossly violated,” she said.

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