A-G: State will not appeal victory by Women of Wall

After consultations with Bennett, Western Wall rabbi, Weinstein won't appeal decision to allow women to wear tallitot at Wall.

Women Torah scroll 2 Western Wall  395 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Women Torah scroll 2 Western Wall 395
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein on Monday night announced that the state would not appeal the Jerusalem District Court’s recent ruling releasing arrested Women of the Wall members and potentially undermining the prohibition against non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall.
The decision was highly significant, as the decision not only released members who had been arrested by police for allegedly violating the area’s customs, but appeared to clash with an earlier decision by the Supreme Court, and the state could have viewed appealing as having a strong chance of success.
The announcement said that Weinstein had held a joint meeting with Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, as well as with the Western Wall’s Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz and other officials, signaling that the decision was taken after wide consultation, possibly in an attempt to move the issue out of the headlines as fast as possible.
Without even having been explicitly ordered to change the current set-up, the statement said that all relevant officials would start a process to consult on making changes, which would help resolve the situation while being true to applicable law.
In a landmark ruling on April 24 that upheld an earlier decision of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, Judge Moshe Sobel ruled in the Jerusalem District Court that women who wear tallitot at the Western Wall Plaza do not contravene “local custom” or disturb public order, and should not be arrested.
Because of this decision, Women of the Wall, which has been waging a long-term campaign for equal prayer rights for its group and for non-Orthodox denominations at the Western Wall, has stated that its members will continue to pray at the existing women’s section at the site “for the foreseeable future.”
With Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky floating a proposal to create an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall, Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, recently stated that the group believes Sharansky’s proposal to be a very important step for religious pluralism in Israel. However, she added, until the plan is fully implemented, the group would continue to conduct its monthly prayer services at the women’s section.
Hoffman would not comment on what the group would decide once an egalitarian section is finally in place, but stressed that under no circumstances would the women abrogate the rights granted in last week’s court decision to pray in the current women’s section according to their customs.
“The full implementation of Sharansky’s plan is at the moment still an imaginary scenario – we’re focusing only on May 10 [the date of Rosh Hodesh Sivan and the Women of the Wall prayer service],” Hoffman said.
“We’re not sure what will happen once the egalitarian section is completed.”
Until now, the police have enforced a 2003 Supreme Court ruling and directives from the Justice Ministry which upheld the 1981 Regulations for the Protection of Holy Places to the Jews.
Under those regulations, performing religious ceremonies at the site that are “not according to local custom” or that “may hurt the feelings of the worshipers” are forbidden.
Local custom is interpreted to mean Orthodox practice.
These regulations and their interpretation have been the legal basis for the regular arrests of women for performing Jewish customs at the Western Wall that are usually practiced by men only under Orthodox norms.
But last week’s ruling means that, at least in theory, participants in Women of the Wall prayer groups who wish to wear tallitot or tefillin, or perform any other Jewish custom not usually conducted by women in Orthodox practice, may legally do so without fearing arrest.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.