Supreme Court holds major hearing on Western Wall status

The Chief Rabbinate and Reform, Conservative movements face off Thursday at crucial hearing over government's freezing of Western Wall plan.

Tzvi Lev,

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

The Supreme Court is holding a major hearing Thursday, in the long-running battle between the Chief Rabbinate and the Reform and Conservative movements concerning the fate of the Western Wall.

The court wants the government to answer why it has not implemented a 2016 decision to expand the area allotted for anti-halakhic mixed-gender prayer services at the southern end of the wall near Robinson's Arch, and the hearing will offer the first clue to the Supreme Court's stance on the matter.

The Rabbinate argues that Israeli law forbids the court from matters which involve religion or holy places, pointing to a 1924 law passed in pre-state British-Mandate Palestine which determined that "no cause or matter in connection with the Holy Places or religious buildings or sites in Palestine or the rights or claims relating to the different religious communities in Palestine shall be heard or determined by any Court in Palestine."

The Rabbinate points out that the court never intervenes in religious affairs for Israel's Muslim and Christian populations, saying that "the court would also allow the Muslim community to make its own religious decisions on whether to continue forbidding worshipers from entering Al Aqsa mosque with shoes, and whether to allow Muslim women to pray beside men instead of behind men in the mosque."

"It is assumed that the honorable court would not intervene in issues concerning Christians or the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher, and would not change the status quo in Jerusalem." There are many Christian denominations, but none have attempted to change the way the Christians in control of the holy sites administer them.

"Mixed prayers, women reading from the Torah, and women giving the 'priestly blessing' - these are all things which fall under the jurisdiction of Jewish law and are at the heart of religious freedom," the Rabbinate's legal council says. "The authority to make decisions on this topic does not belong to the Supreme Court."

The Rabbinate stressed that the Reform and Conservative movements do not claim that they must conduct mixed-gender prayer for their own religious reasons and have no rulings that make it necessary, but simply want to pray that way and demand to get their wish.

Meanwhile, the Reform and Conservative movements have made an about-face, telling the Supreme Court that they will no longer agree to the 'Western Wall Compromise. They claim that they had only agreed to accept the Western Wall Compromise because the area designated for mixed-prayer was to be included as part of the Western Wall itself, unlike the plan in its current form.

"The petitioners capitulated on their demand for a pluralistic prayer space at the existing wall due to their understanding that the new Robinson's Arch would be part of the larger Western Wall area, with equal and public access points" read a legal brief submitted to the court.

The Reform and Conservative movements claim that Robinson's Arch is not viewed as part of the existing Western Wall, noting "the complete physical separation between the prayer area located in the Robinson Arch area and the Western Wall site." However, the area is considered just as holy as the plaza, as both are parts of the outer wall of the Temple Compound and not vestiges of the Temple itself.




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