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19 Iyar 5760 - May 24, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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High Court Decision to Force Reform and Conservative Women on the Kosel

by Betzalel Kahn

Predictably, the High Court ruled on Monday, 17 Iyar (May 22), that the Religious Affairs Ministry must enable a group of Reform and Conservative women to hold a prayer ceremony at the Kosel, something which until now was forbidden by the Law of the Sacred Sites. This group of women seeks to hold their ceremony together, out loud, while they are wrapped in talleisim. They also plan to read from a Torah scroll aloud. The High Court dismissed the objections of the governmental authorities that the ceremony is provocative and incendiary.

The sanctity of the Kosel plaza is guaranteed by a law which says that the sensitivities of those who have come to the Kosel to pray may not be offended. Up until now the authorities have not permitted those "Women of the Wall" to hold their ceremonies at the Kosel under this provision of the law, since the rites they chose are clearly intended to provoke and to offend the sensitivities of the vast majority of those who frequent the Kosel.

Justices of the High Court Eliyahu Matza, Tova Strassberg- Cohen and Dorit Beinish ruled that within half a year, the government must arrange a special place within the Kosel plaza for the conducting of prayer rites of the Reform women. The decision stipulated that this place should be situated within the Kosel plaza and not at an alternate site, and that the safety of the provocative group must also be maintained.

The judges rejected various suggestions raised in recent years regarding the location of an alternate place for the conducting of the disgraceful rite which desecrates this mokom kodosh. They also determined that the police must prevent conflicts and skirmishes with those who oppose the holding of these rites. In reference to the firm opposition of the Torah observant community to these rites, they added that the police should not yield to the demands of various groups.

Concomitantly, it was reported that on Monday, a secret agreement was reached, with the approval of the government, to enable the Reform and Conservatives to hold prayer rites in the Kosel area, though not in the main plaza. The agreement, which was reported in Yediot Acharonot, determines that those prayer rites will be held near the Southern Wall, below a projection in the Western Wall which is known as Robinson's Arch in an area that is currently an archaeological garden.

The agreement states that these rites will be held on a trial basis for a year, and that Conservative women will be able to hold them on the site once a week in the morning hours, as well as on Tisha B'Av and on other special dates, if they give advance notice. It also states that at the first stage, no more than 100 people may participate in these rites at one time.

According to this agreement, which was not coordinated with the religious community, the administration of the sacred sites will provide the participants with religious articles including Torah scrolls, siddurim, a portable aron kodesh, and a closet where they may store these items.

Yated Ne'eman learned that the agreement, formulated with the Conservatives by the government's secretary, Yitzchok Herzog, was supposed to head off the High Court ruling in the suit of the "Women of the Wall." However, the judges ignored the agreement.

Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz said: "According to the decision, they should be given an area where they will not offend the sensitivities of the people who come to pray at the Kosel. If such an arrangement be made, it will probably not allow them to hold their rites at the Kosel plaza itself. However, at this stage, I don't see that a way which will enable them to hold their disgraceful rite at the Kosel plaza is possible.

"It should be stressed that no one who respects the regulations of the site is ever prevented from praying beside the Kosel. Everyone may pray at the Kosel. However, holding a collective rite in order to provoke disturbances is against the halocho and even against the position of the High Court."

Rabbi Moshe Gafni, who on Monday presented an urgent proposal to place the issue on the Knesset agenda, said: "The timing of the court is a bit bizarre, for it comes precisely when soldiers and citizens are being attacked by the Arabs [a time when unity in the nation is of the utmost importance]. This is a knife in the back of Torah observant and traditional Jews throughout the entire world, and is a terrible offense to the most sacred place of the Jewish Nation. The judges of the High Court, who are militant secularists, prove that whoever tries to compromise with them, quickly ends up with extreme decisions like this one.

"The people of the Religious Affairs Ministry, the Nationwide Center for the Sacred Sites, and the rabbis of the sacred sites, as well as those who come to the Kosel to pray, will prove that this is only a decision on paper. The judges of the High Court have even ignored the opinion of the police which said that this rite will shatter the peace, due to the conflicts which will constantly ensue at the site."

MK Rabbi Meir Porush said: "In all of the generations, traditional prayer services were held at the Kosel. Now the High Court is trying to transform this sacred site into a dance square under the aegis of the Reform movement." He said that he will present a proposal to the Knesset obligating the maintaining of traditional prayer standards at the Kosel as in all generations.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron sharply attacked the decision and said that it will result in a rift in the nation. It was made despite the fact that an agreement was reached by all those involved to allocate a special place for the Reform women to pray at the Kosel, a decision to which the Attorney General and the secretary of the government were partners. "In all of the generations, set prayer standards prevailed at the Kosel, and all that the Reform women, under the aegis of the High Court, seek to is to create divisiveness and by praying bedavka at the site which has been declared a synagogue and a sacred place. It is precisely there that they want to carry out there designs."

Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Cohen said that the decision of the High Court is in total defiance of the previous agreements with him and negates his position. "My position is that the Reform and the Conservative may not encroach on the Kosel in any way whatsoever." The Religious Affairs Minister also declared that he will seek swift legislation in the Knesset to define precisely what is permitted and what is forbidden at the Kosel plaza.

The spokesman of the Justice Ministry, Ido Baum: "The ruling of the High Court on the appeal of the Reform women to enable them to pray at the Kosel has reached the office of the Attorney General and he is currently studying it and will discuss its judicial and practical implications with the relevant authorities and parties. Within the framework of the discussions, the possibility of requesting an additional deliberation by the court will also be examined."

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