Landmark Ruling Restores Western Wall's Status as a National Symbol

The judge's reasoning in the Women of the Wall case leans on understanding Judaism as a pluralistic and inclusive religion.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

In two weeks, Jerusalem will commemorate the 46th anniversary of the Six Day War and the capture of East Jerusalem and with it the Old City and Western Wall. Ceremonies will be held in memory of the IDF paratroopers - "liberators of the Kotel." As of Thursday District Court Judge Moshe Sobel can also deserve the distinction of being a liberator of the Western Wall following his landmark ruling in the case of the Women of the Wall.

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of Sobel's decision. Not only did he uphold the magistrate's court ruling that the five women arrested earlier this month by the police for praying at the wall wearing talithot (prayer shawls) were not "disturbing the peace," but his reasoning for this heralds no less than a revolution in the way the Western Wall is run.

Since 1967, the entire area by the Wall has been regarded by authorities for all intents and purposes a synagogue, run on strict Orthodox lines. Sobel's ruling that the "local custom" regulating behavior by the wall is not according to an Orthodox interpretation but a "pluralistic-secular-national" one is a total rejection of the status-quo and restores the Western Wall's status as a national symbol - one that belongs to every Israeli citizen and every Jew from around the world.

Historically, the Western Wall only became a 24/7 open-air synagogue over the last four decades and by any religious standard, the site has no more holiness that any other place in Jerusalem outside the Temple Mount.

Sobel's ruling underlines all those facts but it also says something wider about Israelis in public life. While it is generally understood that the state religion of the Jewish state is Orthodox rabbinical Judaism, this has never been set in law. Not only is it not grounds to arrest women who want to respectfully pray wrapped in prayer shawls, this ruling also gives some heft to claims by the Reform and Conservative movements that their communities are discriminated against in budgets and appointments.

The origins of the "local custom" concept is in religious Jewish law but Sobel, himself a religious man whose children study at National-Orthodox schools, has decided that the local custom in Israel is one that does not exclusively confirm to any religious definition but should be shared by an entire nation.

Women praying at the Western Wall.Credit: Michal Fattal

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