Israel’s High Court of Justice issued a landmark decision on Wednesday that will pave the way for unrestricted women’s prayer at the Western Wall.
The court gave the government 30 days to find “good cause” why women should not be allowed to read aloud from a Torah scroll at the holy site, The Times of Israel reported. If it fails to do this, women will be permitted to read the Torah at the women’s section of the wall. The court further ruled that the Robinson’s Arch area of the plaza, where the government decided to allow an egalitarian prayer pavilion, does not constitute “access to the Western Wall.”
The court also prohibited the Western Wall’s administrators from performing body searches on women to prevent them from bringing certain ritual objects to the prayer area.
“Today, 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 the activist group Women of the Wall. “I am elated because when I was looking for justice, and then courage, they were missing, and now the highest court in the land has shown me both.”
A recent poll conducted by the group Hiddush: Freedom of Religion for Israel found that 62 percent of Israelis support allowing female prayer groups at the Western Wall. However, this position was rejected by 81 percent of modern Orthodox respondents and 95 percent of ultra-Orthodox respondents.
The petition to allow women to read the Torah at the Western Wall was brought to the court by Original Women of the Wall (OWOW), a splinter group of Women of the Wall. Over a year ago, OWOW asked the court to shoot down a directive issued by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, head of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, prohibiting Torah scrolls from being brought to the women’s section. OWOW asserted that the Western Wall is not a synagogue but a “national holy site,” and thus subject to Israeli laws against discrimination in public spaces.
In an op-ed written for The Tower last week, Aviva Klompas explained the rationale behind the petitions on women’s access to the wall and the high court’s rulings.
The Western Wall belongs to all of us. It is not the sole domain of any one political party or religious denomination. It is a place for peoples of all faiths or no faith to stand in prayer and contemplation, bound together by the fears and aspirations shared by all human beings.
[Photo: Women of the Wall Nashot HaKotel / Facebook ]