JERUSALEM (RNS) Women who want to wear prayer shawls while praying in the women’s section of the Western Wall are not breaking the law, according to a landmark decision handed down Thursday (April 25) by the Jerusalem District Court.

Despite a court decision stating women cannot don prayer shawls at the Western Wall, many members and supporters of Women of the Wall pray with prayer shawls. They want the Israeli government to accommodate the needs of all Jews at the Wall, not just those of the ultra-Orthodox. RNS photo by Michele Chabin

Despite a 2003 Supreme Court decision stating women cannot don prayer shawls at the Western Wall, many members and supporters of Women of the Wall pray with prayer shawls. They want the Israeli government to accommodate the needs of all Jews at the Wall, not just those of the ultra-Orthodox. RNS file photo by Michele Chabin


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Israeli police arrested five women on April 11 who were dressed in prayer shawls while praying with Women of the Wall, an activist group that prays at Judaism’s most sacred site once a month.

Immediately following those arrests, a lower court judge ruled that the women had not violated “local custom,” a legal concept intended to keep the fragile peace at holy sites. The Western Wall is a remnant of the Second Temple that was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago.

Thursday’s ruling by the higher court upheld that ruling and rejected an appeal filed by the police, who argued Women of the Wall’s practices violate a 2003 Supreme Court decision and disrupt the public order.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious establishment has long maintained that the group’s practices offend more traditional Jews, who believe only men are allowed to lead group prayers or wear prayer shawls.

Following Thursday’s ruling, Anat Hoffman, the group’s chairwoman, said that “today, Women of the Wall liberated the Western Wall for all Jewish people. … We did it for the great diversity of Jews in the world, all of whom deserve to pray according to their belief and custom at the Western Wall.”

Shira Pruce, the group’s spokeswoman, said the struggle will continue until they see “girls permitted to have a bat mitzvah (coming of age ceremony) at the Wall with a Torah, with a tallit (prayer shawl) , or however they wish and believe.”

In a statement, Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency and a government emissary charged with trying to quell the dispute, said the ruling “only strengthen(s) the need for a sustainable, agreed solution, which will allow every Jew to feel at home at the Western Wall, as the basis for any resolution.” Sharansky had recently proposed adding a third egalitarian section that would allow mixed-gender prayers.

A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry told the Times of Israel that it was too soon to comment on a possible appeal by the state prosecutor to the Supreme Court. A police spokesman could not be reached for comment.

1 Comment

  1. Women of the Wall have a right to pray however they want. However, when there are certain standards set in a certain place, and yes, the fact that every day since the liberation of the Western Wall, and before 1948, the people who flocked to the Western Wall have been traditional men and women, who want to pray traditionally, makes a difference to what the standards are. When non traditional Jews are able to get daily numbers to the Western Wall in as great numbers as Orthdox Jews and Traditional jews, then maybe it might make sense for them to claim that they have an equal say. But its a very small movement, in comparison to huge amounts of people in Israel that are traditional or traditionally minded, and even if they’re not observant themselves, when they go to pray at the Western Wall or at any synagogue, they want it run by traditional standards. Why should a small group of American people, most of whom are here for one year, have the right to force their standards on Israelis when Israelis, as this article stated, aren’t even interested in the Kotel? And if the Women of the Wall wanted to simply pray in peace, and not cause a provocation, they could pray at Robinson’s Arch, a place with the same amount of holiness, just that won’t cause waves. A place of prayer shouldn’t be used as a place to push political agendas or stage protests- that’s what the courtroom is for. The Women of the Wall, regardless of what laws state is allowed or not, are being disrespectful of the vast majority of people who want things run traditionally at the Kotel.
    http://WomenForTheWall.org <– An organization dedicated to preserving tradition at the Western Wall and making it a pleasant place for women to pray.

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