Israeli Court Rules in Favor of Women at the Wall

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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  • It was also an important tradition in Jerusalem that the place was ruled by Rome.

  • raven

    Second temple Judaism was based on animal sacrifice at the temple the Romans destroyed.

    Religions evolve and sometimes quite rapidly.

    I doubt anyone would be too happy if a traditionalist sacrificed a rabbit or lamb at the Western wall, these days.

  • Doug Little

    You’re changing tradition and upsetting the moral order and that will lead to terrible things

    So when are the Israeli’s going to move out of Israel if tradition is so important to them. Oh it’s only their tradition that’s important to them.

  • raven “I doubt anyone would be too happy if a traditionalist sacrificed a rabbit or lamb at the Western wall, these days.”

    It depends if the tradition includes diced carrots, onions sliced so thin they melt, potato salad and a nice wine.

  • busterggi

    Wow, next thing you know the Israeli court will rule that women are human beings.

  • Nick Gotts (formerly KG)

    I doubt anyone would be too happy if a traditionalist sacrificed a rabbit or lamb – raven

    Rabbits wouldn’t have been sacrificed in the Temple: rabbit is not kosher.

  • dingojack

    Nick – you are quite right:

    Leviticus 11:6

    The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you.

    ah that infallible bible!

    Eating beaver however….

    🙂 Dingo

  • jnorris

    …and the world will end. Film at 11.

  • naturalcynic

    Ahhhh… tradition!!! If Rev Tevye can change, so can the Orthodox.

    [They just better not be menstruating]

  • CaitieCat

    Ahh, naturalcynic beat me to it. i was going to say that if nothing else, tradition (and particularly Jewish tradition) does have at least a great song about it. Bump-da-da-bump-da TRADITION-TRADITION!!

    Oh, blasphemy! Now i want to watch Fiddler before my lovely (but devout Muslim) client arrives for tutoring later.

    Sometimes my life as an atheist is weird.

  • mithrandir

    I’m under the vague impression that the Orthodox have a ready-made excuse for not going for a more traditional lamb or cattle sacrifice: no one can prove Levite descent and therefore isn’t authorized to actually perform Temple services. The fact that animal sacrifice would also upset modern observers is, of course, purely a coincidence and how dare anyone suggest otherwise.