Masortim oppose Arch prayer fee

Movement petitions High Court of Justice against entry fee to Robinson's Arch.

robinsons arch 88 (photo credit: )
robinsons arch 88
(photo credit: )
The Masorti movement petitioned the High Court of Justice Sunday against the NIS 30 fee collected from each member of a Masorti minyan who comes to pray at the Western Wall's Robinson's Arch site, which was allocated to the movement by the government for prayer services in August 1999. The fee was imposed in September 2004, but according to Rabbi Andrew Sacks, the director of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Masorti Movement, the group's leaders tried unsuccessfully for a year-and-a-half to negotiate the matter with cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon before finally turning to the High Court. The fee is imposed after 8 a.m. to anyone who visits Robinson's Arch. Most of the visitors are tourists coming to see the archeological sites along the southern portion of the Western Wall, but many come for the sole purpose of praying at the Masorti site. The Masorti movement originally insisted on praying at the Western Wall plaza according to their own customs, which included mixed prayers, women reading from the Torah and wearing a tallit or tefillin. However, haredi worshippers attacked the Masorti group during Shavuot services in 1999 and several times afterwards. As a result, the Masorti worshippers agreed to move to Robinson's Arch, where they can pray at or close to the wall out of sight of the haredim. The Masorti worshippers made it clear that they agreed to this proposal without renouncing their right to pray at the Western Wall plaza and viewed the compromise as temporary. For the following five years, the government allowed Masorti and Conservative worshippers to pray at any time of the day without restrictions. Now, they may pray without pay only between 7 a.m., when the site opens, and 8 a.m. According to Sacks, there are often seven or eight different minyans in a day, and only two Torah scrolls to go around. Since each minyan needs a scroll, it is impossible to conduct all the services by 8 a.m. Even the first minyan does not begin precisely at 7 a.m. because it takes time to bring the Torah scrolls and siddurim down to the site, he said. In the petition, which was submitted by attorney Gideon Koren, the movement complained against the "severe discrimination regarding freedom of worship which the respondents are enacting against Masorti (Conservative) Jews regarding everything having to do with conducting prayers in or near the Western Wall. On the one hand, government policy prevents Masorti Jews from praying at the Western Wall plaza according to their customs and on the other, it refrains from granting the petitioners any suitable alternative."