Photo: Daniel Shitrit
Women of the Wall
Photo: Daniel Shitrit

Reform Jews take Western Wall plan to High Court

Reform Movement, Women of the Wall petition the High Court of Justice to unfreeze and implement the frozen Kotel agreement, so non-Orthodox Jews have a place to pray at the holy site.

The Reform Movement and the Women of the Wall group accused the Israeli government on Sunday of offering a "humiliating solution" for the Western Wall egalitarian prayer area.



The two groups petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding it to order the state to implement a plan reached to build a separate prayer area at the holy site, where they could worship according to their own beliefs, with men and women praying together.


The government decided to freeze the implementation of the agreement in June after facing pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties. Unfreezing the plan's implementation requires an additional government decision. Meanwhile, the situation at the Western Wall remains unchanged, with men and women allowed to pray together only at a distant location allocated for them.


An extended panel of seven judges heard the petition on Sunday. The petitioners asked Chief Justice Esther Hayut why the Women of the Wall are not allowed to bring Torah books to the separate area in which they now pray in.


In turn, Hayut asked the state's representative, attorney Nahi Benor, "If according to the Western Wall rules outside Torah books cannot be brought into the main plaza, why not allow women to use the Torah books already there?," to which the latter answered plainly: "Because the Torah books are in the men's section."


Benor said the state wishes to reach an agreement with the Women of the Wall and the Reform Movement to avoid embarrassing images surfacing in the media of security forces dragging worshipers out of the Western Wall Plaza.


"Having people—many times young girls—being dragged out is not the ideal way to go about it," he said. The ideal solution, he suggested, was the prayer area at the southern part of the Western Wall catering for egalitarian prayer services.


Women of the Wall at the Kotel (Photo: EPA)
Women of the Wall at the Kotel (Photo: EPA)


Attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski, who represents the petitioners, said the southern prayer area "is hidden behind walls and fences to send a message the petitioners should pray like lepers."


"The law promises our feelings would not be hurt. This is a basic right. We have freedom of worship at the Western Wall," she added.


The state, she said, does not implement the plan "because there's concern the Orthodox worshipers' feelings would be hurt. We agreed, in order to avoid hurting their feelings, to move aside, but the state says instead, 'Take a separate and unequal arrangement that humiliates you.'"


She presented the judges with videos showing the separate prayer area, as well as videos showing ultra-Orthodox disrupting their prayer at the beginning of every Hebrew month.


Some of the petitions asked to allow women to pray at the women's prayer area with prayer shawls and Torah books.


Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the leader of the Reform Movement, lamented that "Anyone who needs proof of why the Western Wall plan should be implemented in full should see the disgraceful videos from the Western Wall Plaza. The Israeli government continues providing support to extremist elements who have no interest in compromise or mutual respect."


He went on to express his hope that "the court accepts our position and orders the state to build an egalitarian prayer area, which is connected and linked to the Western Wall Plaza."


 (Photo: AFP)
(Photo: AFP)


Anat Hoffman, the leader of Women of the Wall, said the High Court justices "Watched a video demonstrating the reality of lawlessness at the Western Wall, documenting the disruptions to Women of the Wall's prayers, while police are helpless and lack determination to stop it."


In addition, she continued, "the judges watched a video demonstrating the solution the state is offering is prayer at a remote corner, a sun porch located inside an archeological site."


Hoffman noted the hearing made it clear that "the original Kotel plan—which came of dialogue, compromise and consultation—is the right and worthy solution. Any other solution is capitulation to the extremist Haredi minority, which has taken over this precious national resource that belongs to the people of Israel and all Jews around the world."


פרסום ראשון: 01.14.18, 18:48
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