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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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