Court overrules Tel Aviv municipality to allow gender-segregated event

Women’s rights groups had asked city hall to cancel messianic Chabad gathering in Rabin Square because of partition separating men from women

A Chabad rally in Rabin square in Tel Aviv, July 10, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
A Chabad rally in Rabin square in Tel Aviv, July 10, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

The Tel Aviv District Court ruled Sunday that a gender-segregated event in the city can go ahead despite the municipality pulling its approval amid protests from women’s rights groups.

The event, organized by a messianic group in Chabad known as the True and Complete Redemption Association, is scheduled to take place in Rabin Square, outside the municipal building, on Monday night. Thousands are expected to attend.

Last week, after the municipality said it would bar organizers from holding a segregated event, organizers filed a petition against city hall demanding that it explain why it had changed tack and pulled its approval despite granting permission in May.

Judge Kobi Vardi chided the municipality for its decision to prevent the event from taking place and rejected the requests of a number of gender equality organizations that sought to join the debate on the city’s behalf.

“This is the custom of the community [holding the event] and we have to respect that,” he wrote in his decision.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups, such as Chabad, observe strict gender division in public spaces, with men and women being separated by physical barriers.

At the hearing, the Chabad group noted that it had held many other similar events in the past that featured gender separation, including events in Rabin Square, all of which had been approved by the municipality. A similar event was held in 2016.

Attorneys for the group argued that the planned separation was only in a seated area and a small part of the standing room, whereas the majority of the large square will be open for men and women to mingle freely.

Women’s groups had asked the municipality to prevent the event because of the gender partition, claiming it was excluding women in a public place and therefore against the law.

The attorney general’s office also weighed in on the issue, saying that the municipality had the right to decide the matter for itself. Mayor Ron Huldai accepted the women’s group claim and pulled the municipal approval.

At the hearing, the municipality said that despite the ruling, it reserved the right to bar gender-separated events in the future.

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