Israel High Court Upholds Ban on Sukkot Gender Segregation in Jerusalem

Police permitted ultra-Orthodox community to erect 26-meter long barrier in Mea She'arim, in what High Court says will be last time practice is approved.

The High Court of Justice upheld a ban on gender segregation in Jerusalems Mea Shearim neighborhood on Sunday. 

During this years Sukkot celebrations, police gave ultra-Orthodox leaders of Mea She'arim's Toldos Aharon community permission to erect a barrier dividing the street by gender, despite the fact that, last year, the High Court ordered community leaders to revoke the segregation they imposed on women on Sukkot.

gender-segregated sidewalk - Tomer Appelbaum - 11102011
Tomer Appelbaum

Police permitted community leaders to erect the barrier outside the Toldos Aharon synagogue, where thousands of people attend Simchat Beit Hashoeva (the Water Drawing Celebration), but specified that it could be no more than 26-meters long.

Large billboards posted throughout the capital's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods last week forbade women to enter Mea She'arim Street during the Sukkot celebration.

"Women ... are requested to use alternative streets on their way home and to synagogues ... to help prevent mingling," the posters said.

"This year will be the same as last year," a senior ultra-Orthodox official told Haaretz last week. "We're not doing it to harm women. 15,000 men are coming and 1,500 women, so we're simply moving the women to Shivtei Yisrael Street, from which they will enter the women's section."

The High Court has now ordered that this will be the last year that police can permit the erection of such a barrier.

Last year, community leaders put up tarpaulin partitions along the sidewalks on Strauss and Mea She'arim streets, creating a narrow path on one side for women to walk on, and women were forbidden to walk on certain sidewalks and streets during Sukkot's intermediate days.

Womens' rights groups and organizations opposing religious coercion have demonstrated against the segregation. Jerusalem councilwomen Rachel Azaria of the Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites) faction and Laura Verton (Meretz) petitioned the High Court of Justice against the practice.