Court Hands Secular Victory in Ban on Prayers in Jerusalem Home

Court blocks minyans - prayer quorums - from convening in Kiryat Hayovel residential apartment.

Secular residents of Jerusalem's Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood chalked up a victory against their ultra-Orthodox neighbors Thursday when a court barred prayer services in a residential apartment.

The neighborhood has seen an influx of ultra-Orthodox, who have come to loggerheads with the longtime secular residents. Over the past year, the two sides have fought over an eruv, a physical boundary the ultra-Orthodox have been trying to erect in order to enable them to carry things outside during the Sabbath in keeping with Jewish tradition.

The court blocked minyans - prayer quorums - from convening in a private home, even for small, closed groups only on the Sabbath. Judge Tamar Bar Asher-Zaban rejected the ultra-Orthodox residents' request that she revoke interim orders she issued a week earlier against the services.

"Since it is designated for residential use only, past use for non-residential purposes deviates from the permitted," she ruled. She also ruled that holding services at the house violates the Planning and Building Law.

The conflict revolves around a private residential building on Hantke Steet. The owner of home, a U.S. resident, rents the property to an ultra-Orthodox man. With the owner's agreement, Sabbath prayer services have been held there for the past several weeks. The owner's legal representative also appeared in court.

Members of the ultra-Orthodox group said they have been holding prayers in various neighborhood apartments for several years, and that this does not make the apartment a synagogue. The services are "temporary and provisional with none of the characteristics of a synagogue," said their attorney Rephael Stub, and therefore do not constitute unauthorized use of the building.

Nonetheless, the legal advisor to the Jerusalem Municipality, attorney Yossi Havilio, who received complaints from residents of Hantke Street, argued that holding prayers in the house is a violation of the property's intended use.

"If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck," he said, declaring he would file an indictment against the tenant.

The neighbors testified that 40 people came to worship at the house, creating a disturbance.

Before the ruling, Stub had said in court that the group would simply move to another apartment in the neighborhood. A representative of the ultra-Orthodox group confirmed this to Haaretz in response to Bar Asher-Zaban's ruling.

Attorney Havilio has said that in such a case, he will take action against the other apartment owners as well.