Shas head MK Aryeh Deri plans to bring a new "Kotel Law" before the Knesset for swift approval; legislation will be presented to the relevant constitutional committee next Monday, prior to a hearing that is scheduled in the Supreme Court next Wednesday.
According to the proposed legislation, only religious ceremonies that comport with the existing traditions at the Kotel Hama'aravi (Western Wall) and that do not offend religious sensibilities will be permitted at the holy site. In addition, it will be clearly defined in law that tefillin (phylacteries) and Torah scrolls are not to be introduced to the women's section of the Western Wall prayer plaza. Modest dress will also be required for those visiting the site.
The bill also stipulates that Western Wall traditions are to be decided upon by the Chief Rabbinate along with the Rabbi of the State's holy sites. Anyone who transgresses the regulations places himself at risk of receiving a distancing order from the Western Wall along with a six-month prison sentence or a fine of ten thousand shekels.
Responding to the proposed legislation, Leah Aharoni, Israel Director of the Am Echad organization for promoting the connection between Israel and the Diaspora, told Israel National News:
"After years of neglect, finally the government is taking the necessary steps to ensure that hundreds of thousands of traditional worshipers can feel comfortable praying at the Kotel without provocations. The Kotel has a 1500-year-long prayer tradition in accordance with halachah (Jewish law). Like every religious site in the world, this prayer tradition, and the worshipers who uphold it, must be respected."
MK Zeev Elkin (National Unity) lambasted the bill and its initiator, saying that he thought the bill should be dubbed the "sleeves law." "Two Deri Laws in one week? No immodest dress at the Kotel, no musical instruments, no unauthorized ceremonies - or a half-year jail sentence? Have you all freaked out? The sole consolation is that at least according to the first Deri Law, anyone who receives such a punishment of a half-year's prison sentence will still be able to serve as a government minister. So one might say that the two Deri Laws balance each other out."
Labor MK Gilad Kariv, a Reform minister who has on several occasions smuggled a Torah scroll into the women's section of the Kotel, said, "The haredi politicians are thwarting the implementation of the historic compromise arrangement for the Kotel and are also demanding that the Chief Rabbinate be given a sweeping monopoly over the holy site. If Netanyahu really wants to see pictures of women being thrown into prison cells in the country of the Jewish people, for praying with a prayer shawl, then he is welcome to advance this scandalous piece of legislation."
Kariv added that, "This legislation is another reminder that what starts at the Kotel finishes in Tel Aviv, in Beer Sheva, in Afula, and in Nazareth, and with the rights of all Israeli citizens."
Also responding to the proposed bill was the extreme left-wing Women of the Wall feminist organization. "This is a time of emergency for all those for whom Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is important, for all those who think that it is important to maintain the Kotel as the home of the entire Jewish people.
"The complete subjugation of the local custom to the Chief Rabbinate is in total opposition to the existing situation," they continued, "and deals a fatal blow to freedom of religion and of worship, for worshipers in general and for women praying in the women's section in particular. The practical effect of this bill will be that for the first time ever, women will be legally barred from praying in their own manner, and that anyone who does not submit to the authority of the Chief Rabbinate will simply become a criminal."
The Women of the Wall added that, "The simple truth is that the Israeli government wants to outlaw the Women of the Wall and bar millions of Jewesses and Jews from praying in their own manner at the Western Wall. This is scandalous and we will not stand idly by."
"Women of the Wall have no shortage of venues in the city of Jerusalem where they can pray undisturbed any way they like," responded Leah Aharoni. "Kotel-goers deserve to pray undisturbed too."