Court to think again about women at Wall


JERUSALEM, Nov. 19 (JTA) – Israel’s High Court of Justice is reconsidering whether to allow a women’s group to pray at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

An expanded panel of nine justices convened Sunday at the request of the state, which had asked the court to reconsider the ruling it issued six months ago in favor of the women’s prayer group.

In May, the High Court of Justice recognized the right of women to hold prayer services at the wall and gave the government six months to arrange for police protection for the women to pray at the Wall, also known as the Kotel.

The landmark ruling capped an 11-year legal battle by the women’s group.

The state maintains that the presence of the group, whose members wear tallitot and read aloud from the Torah during their service, would represent a significant shift from accepted prayer ritual at the site.

The state has also argued that the women’s prayer services could pose a threat to public safety and to the sensitivities of Orthodox worshipers.

In recent years, such services sparked violent protests by fervently Orthodox Jews.

Earlier this year, fervently Orthodox legislators initiated bills to bypass the court’s ruling. One bill would sentence women to seven years in jail for reading from the Torah, blowing the shofar or wearing a tallit at the Western Wall.

Other legislators have suggested a compromise under which the women’s group would not pray at the main plaza of the Western Wall, but would hold its services at Robinson’s Arch, which is at the southern end of the Western Wall.

During Sunday’s hearing, Jerusalem’s police chief, Yair Yitzhaki, cautioned the court that the women’s services could prompt disturbances and even bloodshed.

The justices plan to resume deliberations after touring the Western Wall site to familiarize themselves with the situation there.

Although the court is re-evaluating its earlier decision in favor of the women’s group, Jerusalem city councilwoman and Women of the Wall member Anat Hoffman said the group is prepared to accommodate the sensitivities of other worshipers.

But she said it would not yield on its insistence to pray at the Western Wall.

For this reason, she said, the group has rejected the compromise offer to hold its prayer services at Robinson’s Arch.

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