Appeal: Reform prayer at Western Wall is illegal

Organization claims that planned 'Women of the Wall' prayer service at Western Wall is a violation of Supreme Court ruling.

Tzvi Lev ,

Woman of the Wall
Woman of the Wall
Hadas Parush/Flash 90

The 'Women of the Wall' group plan hold a non-traditional prayer service at the Western Wall Wednesday, as they attempt to do on the first day of every Jewish month, which will include women wearing Tefilin (phylacteries), blowing the shofar, (ram's horn) and reading from the Torah.

But a group dedicated to preserving the status quo at the Western Wall Plaza - the 'Women For the Wall' - has appealed to police to prevent the alternative prayer service from being held anywhere outside the area designated for non-traditional services, arguing that the event is against the law.

Women For the Wall contend that the Supreme Court only permitted non-traditional and mixed-gender services at a prayer space near the Western Wall's southern end - not in the central plaza area.

Pointing to the minuscule number of Conservative and Reform Jews residing in Israel, Women For the Wall also say the provocative service the feminist group plans on holding is illegal because it violates the local customs of the site.

"Religious ceremonies that violate the local custom at the Western Wall harm the other worshipers' feelings," attorney Harel Arnon wrote to Police Deputy Commander Chaim Shmuely, whose district includes the Western Wall.

"The prayer service planned by the Women of the Wall, the Reform Movement and the Conservative Movement at the Western Wall Plaza is illegal," he continued. "The ceremonies of these organizations are expected to cause serious harm to the worshipers who are expected to arrive en masse to the Western Wall for the services of Rosh Chodesh Elul."

Women of the Wall traditionally holds a provocative prayer ceremony at the Western Wall on the first day of every Hebrew month. Wearing Jewish articles traditionally reserved for men, they upset the many women who pray there every day of the month and are sometimes heckled by haredi Jews, who view their actions as a provocation.

The current law stipulates that religious ceremonies at holy sites can only be held according to the local custom.

The Israeli government froze a plan in June that would have expanded the southern plaza area near Robinson's Arch,which has been set aside for non-Orthodox services but remains largely unused. The decision caused a storm, and a lawsuit launched by Reform Judaism's representatives against the government policy at the Western Wall is currently being debated on by the Supreme Court.

The brief handed to the courts by the Chief Rabbinate pointed out that non-Orthodox Jews are not obligated by their tenets to pray in a mixed gender setting, they simply want to do so. The Chief Rabbis asked whether the courts would interfere in separate gender Muslim prayer traditions or rituals performed in churches, stating that religious issues are not decidable in court.