I’ve written several times about the ongoing controversy in Jerusalem, where a group called Women at the Wall have been challenging the custom and law that has prevented them from praying at the Western Wall in traditional prayer shawls. Ultra-Orthodox Jews there think that only men should be allowed to do that and the police have repeatedly arrested women who attempted it. Now a court has ruled in favor of the women.
In a groundbreaking ruling, the Jerusalem District Court upheld an earlier decision of the magistrate’s court that women who wear prayer shawls (“tallitot” in Hebrew) at the Western Wall Plaza are not contravening “local custom” or causing a public disturbance, and therefore should not be arrested…
The Regulations for theProtection of Holy Places to the Jews, dating from 1981, forbid performing religious ceremonies that are “not according to local custom” or that “may hurt the feelings of the worshipers” at the site, where local custom is interpreted to mean Orthodox practice.
These regulations and their interpretation, which a Supreme Court ruling upheld in 2003 and a Justice Ministry directive reiterated in 2005, have been the legal basis for the regular arrests of women who perform Jewish customs at the Western Wall that are usually practiced only by men in Orthodox Judaism.
On Thursday, however, Judge Moshe Sobell, who was presiding over an appeal hearing that the Israel Police had filed against the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court decision, upheld Larry-Bavly’s earlier ruling that there was no basis for arresting women over wearing tallitot or performing rites not in accordance with Orthodox custom.
Sobell ruled that the definition of “local custom” did not automatically mean Orthodox practice. He based this decision on the written opinions of several Supreme Court justices from previous cases, particularly that of justice Shlomo Levin, who wrote in a 1994 ruling on the issue that “the expression ‘local custom’ does not need to be interpreted specifically as according to Jewish law or the current situation.”
Levin wrote that it was the nature of customs to change with the times, and within that context “[permission] should be given to the expression of a pluralistic and tolerant approach to the opinions and customs of others.”
And now the Ultra-Orthodox people will make exactly the same argument that conservatives always make in such situations — tradition! You’re changing tradition and upsetting the moral order and that will lead to terrible things. The fact that this argument is almost never true doesn’t ever seem to bother them in the least.
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