JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that women should be allowed to read from the Torah in the women’s section at the Western Wall and that the alternate Robinson’s Arch area of the site’s plaza for egalitarian prayer does not constitute access to the wall.
The court in its decision, an interim injunction, announced on Wednesday also instructed that the women should not be subjected to body searches before entering the plaza, part of the Western Wall Foundation’s attempts to find and prevent from entering to the women’s side Torah scrolls, and other Jewish ritual objects including tallit, tefillin and menorahs.
The court gave the administrator of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, and state agencies including the Prime Minister’s Office and the Religious Services Ministry, 30 days to submit their response to the injunction.
The parties “must explain why the petitioners should not be allowed to pray in accordance with their custom at the traditional plaza, or alternatively allow them to pray in accordance with their custom at a place which has access to the Western Wall similar to [the access] at the traditional site.”
The petitioners include the Original Women of the Wall (OWOW), a break off of the Women of the Wall group, who want to pray in the women’s section and not at Robinson’s Arch. The court combined the OWOW petition with two others. The petition challenged a 2010 directive issued by Rabinowitz, barring the women from bringing to and using a Torah scroll on the women’s side.
The directive “flagrantly violates Israeli law against discrimination in access to or use of public property: the Kotel is not a synagogue, but ‘a national holy site,’ that is, public space,” the women argued.
The Original Women of the Wall in a statement posted on Facebook called the decision a “momentous ruling.”
Women of the Wall also responded to the ruling. “Just when it seemed the rabbinate’s power was overwhelming the Court’s verdict regarding our demand to read Torah at women’s section of the Western Wall reflects both courage and wisdom, Women of the Wall head Anat Hoffman said in a statement, also posted on Facebook.
“Today, we have come much closer toward implementation of the Western Wall agreement on gender equality and religious freedom at the Wall.”
Women of the Wall have brought hidden Torah scrolls into the women’s sections several times for their monthly prayer service in honor of the new month. They have held several bat mitzvahs with the Torah scrolls, as well as bat mitzvah services without Torah scrolls when they have been caught. The women have been denied access to the some 100 Torah scrolls stored on the men’s side of the Western Wall Plaza.
An agreement passed by the government last January for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall was negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government.
Under the agreement, which was approved by the Cabinet, the egalitarian section of the wall near Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and placed under the authority of a pluralist committee. The plan called for solidifying haredi Orthodox control over the site’s traditional Orthodox section.
Haredi Orthodox lawmakers and some from the Jewish Home and Likud parties in December submitted a bill to the Knesset to prevent non-Orthodox public prayer at the Western Wall.