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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.