Israel’s high court suggested in a ruling Wednesday that women have the right to read from the Torah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
The court ordered the rabbi of the Western Wall to explain within 30 days why women “should not be allowed to pray in accordance with their custom at the traditional plaza.”
Women of the Wall called the ruling a breakthrough for pluralistic prayer at the holy site in Jerusalem.
“We have come much closer toward implementation of the Western Wall agreement on gender equality and religious freedom at the wall,” said Anat Hoffman, leader of Women of the Wall.
The court also ordered authorities to stop body searches of women entering the Kotel, which were implemented to prevent women from bringing Torah scrolls to the holy site.
However it was not immediately clear what the impact of the ruling might be on the broader question of pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall.
The court gave the administrator of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, and state agencies including the Prime Minister’s Office and the Religious Services Ministry, 30 days to submit their response to the injunction.
The parties “must explain why the petitioners should not be allowed to pray in accordance with their custom at the traditional plaza, or alternatively allow them to pray in accordance with their custom at a place which has access to the Western Wall similar to [the access] at the traditional site.”
The petitioners include the Original Women of the Wall, a splinter group of the Women of the Wall group, who want to pray in the women’s section and not at Robinson’s Arch. The court combined the OWOW petition with two others. The petition challenged a 2010 directive issued by Rabinowitz, barring the women from bringing to and using a Torah scroll on the women’s side.
Women of the Wall have brought hidden Torah scrolls into the women’s sections several times for their monthly prayer service in honor of the new month. They have held several bat mitzvahs with the Torah scrolls, as well as bat mitzvah services without Torah scrolls when they have been caught. The women have been denied access to the some 100 Torah scrolls stored on the men’s side of the Western Wall Plaza.
An agreement passed by the government last January for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall was negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government.
Under that agreement, which was approved by the Cabinet, 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.
Haredi Orthodox lawmakers and some from the Jewish Home and Likud parties in December submitted a bill to the Knesset to prevent non-Orthodox public prayer at the Western Wall.—With JTA
Dave Goldiner is the Forward’s director of digital media. Dave is a veteran journalist who has spent two decades working at newspapers in the United States and Africa. A native New Yorker, Goldiner wrote for the New York Daily News, where he covered some of the biggest stories of our time, including the attacks of September 11, along with thousands of stories of hope and heartbreak. He also studied and worked in Southern Africa and has written for publications in South Africa and Zimbabwe. He holds masters degrees in journalism and public administration from Columbia University. Dave can be reached at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @davegoldiner