Messiah in the Heart of Tel Aviv: Court Allows Gender-segregated Event in Rabin Square

Tel Aviv District Court okays Chabad's planned program for Monday with the judge criticizing municipal authorities for trying to cancel it too late.

Rabbis attend an event at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor's Office event hall, 2018.
Meir Alfasi

The Tel Aviv District Court gave the go-ahead on Sunday for the Chabad ultra-Orthodox movement to hold a gender-divided event in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, overturning a decision by city hall to ban it.

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Judge Kobi Vardi wrote that he found no reason the program could not be held with men and women grouped separately.

The petition was filed by an organization associated with a Messianist branch of Chabad, which argued that approval for the event scheduled for Monday and entitled “Waiting for the Messiah,” had already been given then cancelled due to political pressure.

Vardi criticized the Tel Aviv Municipality for not holding a required hearing for Chabad and then banning the segregation aspect of the event too late.

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The municipality accepted the court’s proposal to rescind its decision. The judge also rejected the arguments by the Israel Women’s Network and other organizations. “Keep your arguments for more important cases. This is a group whose Jewish law this is,” he said, referring to Chabad, “and this should be respected.”

Vardi added: “It is hoped that all sides will learn to see the viewpoint of the other and to build a bridge that spans different cultures, groups and opinions and all work to prevent barriers or internal divisions.”

The Chabad representative who presented the petition told the court that the planned barrier between men and women in the square would be 50 meters long, but separation would be voluntary and men had the option of sitting with women, as well. The judge said the barrier was for people who identified with the association and that passersby could move freely through the square.

“I don’t understand why the event should not be held the way they [Chabad] want,” Vardi said.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai responded Sunday to the decision by saying, “We will make sure that in the future there will be no [gender-] separated events in the city.”

In his videotaped response, Huldai said, “We respect the court's decision regarding the Chabad event that is taking place tomorrow, due to the short time since our precedent-setting decision on prohibiting gender segregation. The event will take place with the commitment of the organizers to keep Rabin Square open to all, and to allow the mixed public to be found anywhere in [the square].”

Huldai announced last week that he would not permit events held in public spaces to be segregated. His decision was based on the city's legal adviser's view that municipalities have the power not to allow gender segregation at an event held with its approval.

About three weeks ago, the Israel Women’s Network asked the municipality and Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, who has been active in the struggle against segregation of women, to prevent gender separation at the Chabad event.

The women's organization said that holding an event of this kind in space that belongs to all Tel Aviv residents, without women on the dais and with men and women seated separately, “harms equality and discriminates against women.”

The invitation issued by Chabad notes the event is to mark “faith, joy and redemption,” and that there would be “special places for women.”

Following the Israel Women’s Network appeal, discussions, led by Zilber, were held between the municipality and the Justice Ministry. It was then decided not to allow the event to go forward. One of the reasons cited in that decision was that the event was to be held in a main city square and that it was not of a purely religious nature.