Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Cheshvan 5761 - November 22, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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High Court Weighs Women of the Wall Provocation
by Yated Ne'eman Staff and B. Kahn

The question of where the Women of the Wall Reform congregation will be allowed to hold its monthly prayer service came down to three possibilities during a hearing before an extended panel of nine justices early this week.

On May 22 a panel of three justices gave the government six months to find a spot for the Women of the Wall to pray somewhere inside the Western Wall Plaza, without determining the exact location. A few weeks later, Supreme Court President Aharon Barak agreed to hold a second hearing on the petition before a larger panel.

This week's hearing was limited to questions by the nine justices to the attorneys of the two sides. The questions revolved around three possible sites: Robinson's Arch, a section of the wall which is physically cut off from the traditional prayer area and is now used for Conservative services; somewhere within the area of the Western Wall Plaza, which has not been officially delineated but includes a large swath of space, some of it very far from the Wall itself; and the women's section of the Western Wall prayer area, where the Women of the Wall congregation wants to pray.

During the hearing, it became clear that the Women of the Wall congregation may not have won the victory it thought it did on May 22, as the justices made it clear that they understood that praying somewhere inside the Western Wall Plaza could place them far away from the Wall itself.

The attorney for the State explained that the state felt that Robinson's Arch was the best solution and that the police had warned that the solutions within the Western Wall Plaza, including the parking lot which is far from the Western Wall, would arouse disturbances by opponents of the Reform women's congregation.

Jerusalem District Police Commander Yair Yitzhaki told the justices: "It is almost absolutely certain that the kind of service the women want to conduct will cause disturbances wherever they are held and not just if they are held in the area designated for prayer."

The bench, headed by Barak, decided to visit the Western Wall area and gave the state three weeks to present a map showing the borders of the Western Wall Plaza. It also rejected a request by two groups opposed to the Women of the Wall, Kolot Hakotel and Am Echad, to add their names to the state's petition.

That appeal contained some important arguments. It was prepared by Kolot Hakosel, a group of chareidi and religious women, and by the Am Echad, headed by Rabbi Yonasan Rosenblum.

At a press conference held in Jerusalem, the main points of the appeal were presented.

The High Court found that the State must enable the Women of the Wall to hold their prayer ceremony in the Kosel square, wrapped in talleisim and tefillin, even though such behavior violates the accepted prayer arrangements at the site.

At the time, the judges refused to accept the proposal that this group hold its services nearby, and issued instructions that they be allowed to hold their ceremony next to the Kosel.

In their decision six months ago, the judges wrote that they order the government "to fix the arrangements and conditions whereby the petitioners will be able to realize their right to pray according to their custom in the Kosel Plaza."

The Am Echad petition argued that the Women of the Wall group is not asking for access to the Kosel because each individual already has full and unrestricted access. Rather their appeal asks to make special arrangements to enable them to hold religious services that are materially different from the customary and prevalent prayer practices at the Kosel.

The petitioners cite previous decisions of the High Court, which accepted the provisions of the Law of Sacred Sites, which are based on "the pronouncement of the King in the Council in Eretz Yisroel" [from the mandatory period] which states: "No court in Israel may clarify or decide any suit or any other issue connected to the sacred sites or religious edifices or religious places in Eretz Yisroel . . . "

The petitioners also note that during the past few decades numerous motions and appeals on these issues were filed and the High Court always left the abovementioned law alone and refused to change or even to interpret it. Chief Justice Aharon Barak himself also affirmed the validity of the law a number of years ago.

The petitioners argue that if the Supreme Court assumes, for the first time, "the authority to determine prayer and ritual arrangements at sacred sites, soon many of the hundreds of religious groups and streams will also demand special and exclusive prayer arrangements at the Kosel Plaza, on the Temple Mount, and in many other sacred sites with which our country is blessed."

The appeal also says: "If the court from now on will concern itself with arranging the details of the special religious ceremonies of the scores and even hundreds of communities, streams, groups and sub-groups at the Kosel, the Kosel Plaza will look more like Hyde Park in London, than the remnant of our Beis Hamikdash, the special site which unites Jews from all backgrounds and from all corners of the world. The determination of prayer arrangements -- their times, their place --for so many rival groups will transform this esteemed court into a `shul gabbai' who usually decides who will pray, where he will pray and how."

The petitioners say that if every group is allowed to hold a ceremony as it pleases in the Kosel Plaza, those who seek to pray on the Temple Mount will also file petitions to be allowed to pray as and where they wish. The Court has not permitted this based on the principle that the Court is restricted from interfering in prayer arrangements at a sacred site as defined and provided in the Law of Holy Sites.

The Court also did not accept the assessment of the Police that permitting such a prayer service next to the Kosel will disrupt public order and said that it is possible to enable the Women of the Wall to hold their services. However, when the court forbade Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, the reason it gave was the need to preserve public order.

Am Echad officials have not yet decided whether to appeal their being dropped from the case.


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