Women should not have been arrested at Western Wall, judge rules

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Women praying out loud at the Western Wall in prayer shawls do not disturb the public order and should not have been arrested, an Israeli court found.

The Jerusalem District Court ruled Thursday that five members of Women of The Wall should not have been arrested on April 11. The court also rejected a police request for a restraining order barring women from the site.

The women, members of the group that has agitated for women’s prayer rights at the Western Wall, were arrested earlier this month and questioned for several hours by police before their release. Jerusalem Magistrate Court Judge Sharon Larry-Bavly ordered their release and rejected the police request that they be prevented from visiting the site for three months.

Thursday’s hearing considered an appeal by the police over the restraining order.

In his decision, Judge Moshe Sobell said that the Supreme Court decision of 2003, which upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallit prayer shawls and reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, was never intended to serve as an injunction which would apply criminal violations to women, according to a statement issued by the Women of the Wall after the hearing.

The decision also did not ban Women of the Wall from praying in the women’s section, he said. The judge said that the women were not a danger to the public and that their prayer did not disturb the public order. 

“The most important aspect of this ruling is the fact that Women of the Wall’s prayer in the women’s section of the Western Wall does not violate the ‘local custom’ and therefore does not imply a reasonable doubt of violation of the Law of Holy Places The court has rejected any reasonable cause for a policy of repeated detainment and arrests of Women of the Wall by police,” said the group’s attorneys, David Barhoum and Einat Horovitz, in a statement.

Women of the Wall has held a special prayer service at the holy site almost each month for the last 20 years on Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new Hebrew month, at the back of the women’s section.

Women participating in the Rosh Chodesh service have been arrested nearly every month since June for wearing prayer shawls or for “disturbing public order."

“Today Women of the Wall liberated the Western Wall for all Jewish people. We did it for the eight-year-old girl who can now dream of having her Bat Mitzvah at the Wall, and for the grandmother who cannot climb on a chair in order to see her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. We did it for the great diversity of Jews in the world, all of whom deserve to pray according to their belief and custom at the Western Wall,” Anat Hoffman, the group’s chair, said in a statement. 

Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy sites of Israel, responded to the ruling in a statement issued Thursday. "The Western Wall is our last remaining unifying place. It easy to set it ablaze with the fires of dispute. It is much harder to find the middle road which would allow all continue to feel they belong and are welcome at the Western Wall. I implore the authorities and the silent majority that cares about the Western Wall to prevent fanatics from all sides from turning the Western Wall plaza into an area of conflict between brethren."

“The decision of the District Court and the reactions to it only strengthen the need for a sustainable, agreed solution, which will allow every Jew to feel at home at the Western Wall, as the basis for any resolution. An agreed solution reached through dialogue, understanding and mutual compromise will ensure that the Western Wall remains a symbol of unity for the entire Jewish people,” Natan Sharansky, chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

 Sharansky added: “Now that we have an agreed outline, I call on all the sides to move forward and implement it.”

 

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