The battle for women to win the right to read the Torah at the Western Wall has taken another step. A group of petitioners has requested that the Supreme Court cancel the order on bringing personal Torahs to the holy site, an action that has been in principle permitted by the court.
In 2013 a Jerusalem District Court judge, Moshe Sobel, consolidated the new commentary to the Supreme Court decision regarding the Women of the Wall, an NGO that works to give women full rights to worship at the Western Wall as men do.
Setting a precedent, Judge Sobel ruled that women can conduct all customs at the site. However, the right to read from the Torah there was not realized, because there are no books offered on the women's side of the Western Wall compound and the custodian of holy places has since 2010 banned women from bringing books from outside.
Now the Center for Women's Justice has petitioned, along with four other female worshipers, to request the cancelation of this procedure and in addition to clearly stipulate that they have the right to read from the Torah at the Western Wall plaza.
According the petitioners, the trustee of the site, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, systematically harmed the rights they had been granted by the court ruling, while at the same time setting aside dozens of Torahs for men's use alone.
The petitioners accused Rabbi Rabinowitz of instructing police and stewards of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to prevent women from bringing Torahs to the plaza, in addition to requesting them to take the women in for police questioning should they attempt to do so.
"The trustee does not have the authority to apply this procedure," the petitioners claimed, and demanded that the Protection of Holy Places Law be clarified to be made compatible with the Basic Laws, such as that of human dignity and liberty.
"In addition, the trustee has prevented women from getting Torahs from the men's section because a dividing structure has been placed between the men's and women's sections," the petitioners continued. They also mentioned the deployment of additional police along the length of the partition at certain times.
Consequently, the women are suing the state for NIS 150,000 in damages to compensate for what they claim are discriminatory practices that break the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services and Entry into Places of Entertainment and Public Places Law.
The manager of the Center for Women's Justice, Dr. Susan Weiss, said: "The procedure for bringing Torahs to the Western Wall plaza is just one example of what happens when the state abandons its authority to a theocratic body, that does not believe in human rights or equality at the Wall."
Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, added: "The petition is further evidence of the real need of women in Israel to read from the Torah, and of the public climate in Israel because of this historic decision."
In response, Rabbi Rabinowitz said: "Several hectic discussions have been convened over the last few days, with the aim of which is to reach an agreement as to the demands of all the different streams at the Western Wall.
"I hope that with God's help these discussions will be completed in the coming days."