Bill proposes ban on non-Orthodox worship at Western Wall
Menu JTA Search

Bill proposes ban on non-Orthodox worship at Western Wall

Women of the Wall members bringing Torahs to the Western Wall, Nov. 2, 2016. (Screenshot from Twitter)

Women of the Wall members bringing Torahs to the Western Wall, Nov. 2, 2016. (Screenshot from Twitter)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Sephardi Orthodox Shas party has proposed a bill that would prevent any kind of non-Orthodox public prayer at the Western Wall.

Under the draft bill announced late Monday by Shas, a fine of some $2,500 or a six-month prison sentence would be levied on participants in egalitarian prayer services or on women who use a tallit or tefillin.

The bill would place the site under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate and would be governed under the religious practice approved by the Chief Rabbinate and the country’s rabbinic courts, which in practice is Orthodox.

Passage of the bill would torpedo the agreement in January for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall organization, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government.

The Shas bill, which is expected to be opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reportedly has little chance of becoming law.

It would prohibit any ceremony “that is not held according to local custom, that offends the feelings of the worshipers in the Holy place.” The measure also would bar “an act that could disturb the worshipers with their prayer; mixed prayers of men and women” in any area of the Western Wall plaza. That would include “a ceremony  in the Women’s section that includes taking out the Torah scroll and reading from it, blowing on shofars, and wearing prayer shawls or phylacteries.”

In a statement, Shas said the bill has received the support of many factions and many Knesset members have already signed it, but without naming any parties or lawmakers specifically.

“The law will create essential order in the holiest place of the Jewish people and will regulate its status according to Jewish religious law,” the statement said.

It added: “We have no doubt that this bill faithfully reflects the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public and will return the Wall’s proper status, dignity and sanctity.”

The proposed bill comes days after a Reform synagogue in the central Israel city of Raanana was vandalized with hate messages, some referring to egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

In a post on Facebook, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, pointed out that the Shas party did not condemn the attack on the Kehilat Raanan synagogue nor the death threat against the rabbi.

“Our business is with the Prime Minister, who for four years led the negotiations,” Kariv wrote. “Just two weeks ago he committed before the Jewish leadership in North America to implement the layout of the Western Wall. He’s the one standing for the test. Not Aryeh Deri,” the head of the Shas party.

Under the agreement announced in January and approved by the Cabinet in a 15-5 vote, the egalitarian section of the wall near Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and placed under the authority of a pluralist committee. The plan called for solidifying haredi Orthodox control over the site’s traditional Orthodox section.

Earlier this month, leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States and Israel brought at least 12 Torah scrolls into the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza for a prayer service. The scrolls were carried into the women’s section for use during the Women of the Wall’s monthly prayer service at the wall as part of a protest march against restrictions on egalitarian worship at the site and calling for the implementation of the deal.