Top Court Asks Israeli Police to Explain Harassment of Women's Activist Group at Western Wall

Western Wall rabbi also among those told to respond within 30 days to concerns that all necessary steps aren’t being taken to stop protesters disrupting the women's group's prayers

Police escort Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman holding a Torah scroll from the Western Wall, on July 12, 2010.
Michal Fattal

The High Court of Justice on Monday ordered the Israel Police and authorities in charge of the Western Wall to explain why they aren’t guaranteeing the Women of the Wall group’s right to pray undisturbed in the women’s section at the Kotel.

Issuing a temporary injunction, the justices gave the police, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation 30 days to respond to a petition by the women’s activist group, which is demanding the right to pray aloud, with Torah scrolls and tefillin, at the Kotel.

The court also wanted to know why the police and Rabinovitch haven’t taken all the necessary steps against groups trying to interfere with the women’s prayers, including why they haven’t restricted the protesters’ access while the Women of the Wall pray in the northern plaza.

The High Court also said it is expanding the panel of judges from three to seven (at least) to hear the petition by the Women of the Wall and a series of organizations against the government regarding its suspension of a plan to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel.

This means outgoing Supreme Court President Miriam Naor will not make a decision on the case that she had until now headed.

In June, the Israeli cabinet voted to suspend the plan to create a permanent space for mixed-gender prayer at the Western Wall, sparking anger from Diaspora Jews. They accused the Israeli government of kowtowing to ultra-Orthodox lawmakers and the Chief Rabbinate – a rift that has yet to be healed.

About a month ago, the government told the High Court that, after considering the matter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had decided not to bring up the Kotel plan for another cabinet discussion – in other words, the plan remains frozen.

Lawyers Riki Shapira-Rosenberg and Orly Erez-Lahovsky, who are representing the Women of the Wall and the Reform and Conservative movements, welcomed the High Court injunction.

“We hope the message being sent to the government – to the effect that it must distance all those who are disturbing the prayer of the Women of the Wall and preventing them from fulfilling their constitutional right to worship at the Western Wall Plaza – will be recognized, and that on Rosh Hodesh Kislev [the first day of the next Hebrew month], the Women of the Wall will be able to pray at the northern plaza undisturbed.

“The decision to expand the panel indicates that the High Court justices also realize this is an important and basic issue, which has implications for the relationship with Diaspora Jewry and the understanding that the present situation involves a harsh blow to the rights of all those who are not ultra-Orthodox Jews, who want to pray at the Western Wall as they are accustomed,” they continued.

“We believe the expanded High Court panel will instruct the government to allow egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, and in doing so will repair the serious discrimination that prevails in the place most sacred to the Jewish people,” they added.