MK Aliza Lavie
MK Aliza LavieIsrael news photo: Flash 90

A District Court judge ruled Thursday that the Women of the Wall are not violating a High Court ruling when they pray with tallit prayer shawls and read from Torah scrolls in the women's section of the Kotel Plaza.

Halakhically, the ruling depends on the specific question. There are rabbis who permit women to use prayer accessories that are traditionally worn by men and to read from the Torah, but it is against halakha for women to recite a blessing before or after the Torah reading and women cannot make up a quorum for reciting Kaddish and Kedusha responsively.

However, Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Sobel said that the State is interpreting the High Court ruling in the wrong way, and that the policy of arresting the women is unwarranted.

MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), who heads the Knesset's Committee for Advancement of Women's Status, reacted to the ruling and said, "All along the way, I said that the court's rulings must be obeyed. The ruling handed down today means that there has been unwarranted cruelty toward the Kotel Women as they prayed, for years."

"Let me make clear – this is not a halakhic issue at all but a legal one, and in view of the new ruling, the Israel Police must refrain from arrests," she claimed.

Lavie asked the Attorney General to give a clear opinion on the matter. "We will not allow the creation of unnecessary confusion, whose ramifications will increase the discord and confrontation," she said.

The women, who come one day a month, offend the regular daily worshipers at the Wall, where the rules have always been - since the Wall was returned to Jewish hands in 1967 - that prayers are held in traditional fashion, with some of the liturgy and melodies varying, depending on the origin of those praying. Hundreds of thousands of Jews who came from all over the world, Yemenites, Moroccans, Iraqi, Indian,Ethiopian and others, pray with different melodies and order of prayers, but identify and adhere to the rules without question. 

At the head of the Women of the Wall is Anat Hoffman, a Reform Jew, who therefore does not adhere to the Oral halakha as set down in the Talmud and Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law). Some of the women who accompany her are observant Jews, but feminist in their attitude to prayer customs.

Ms. Hoffman told theBBC recently that the issue of prayer at the Wall is the first step in a plan to have Conservative and Reform movements obtain official rights in Israel to perform marriages, grant divorces and conversion according to their customs. These will not be recognized by observant Jews, no matter what the government rules.