Judge asks Tel Aviv Mayor Huldai to drop ‘time-wasting’ libel suit against minister Miri Regev

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Transportation Minister Miri Regev speaks to the media after a court hearing at the Magistrate's Court in Tel Aviv, January 31, 2024 (Flash90)
Transportation Minister Miri Regev speaks to the media after a court hearing at the Magistrate's Court in Tel Aviv, January 31, 2024 (Flash90)

Transportation Minister Miri Regev is in court to defend herself in a libel suit brought by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai over her claim that he prevented Jews from carrying out the ritual of laying tefillin.

Judge Dorit Kovarsky notes that Regev has immunity, calling the trial that opened today at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court a “waste of time.” She suggests the two parties issue a statement clarifying their positions and “go home” but issues no ruling, waiting for the parties’ response to her proposal.

The scene is the first discussion in the lawsuit that Huldai filed in 2020 against Regev in connection with her claims regarding the tefillin, religious
items that Jewish men place on their head and arm while praying.

Huldai is demanding the minister pay him NIS 500,000 ($137,000) but Regev disputes the charges and anyway has parliamentary immunity that prevents the court from imposing penalties on her. The trial is going ahead after Huldai ignored Regev’s call on him Tuesday to drop the lawsuit in light of the war against Hamas, which has sidelined societal tensions around religion that have polarized Israeli society in recent years.

Regev says her claims were in connection with a decision to remove several stands from the public domain that observant Orthodox Jews, typically from Chabad, set up to encourage passerby to lay tefillin. Tel Aviv has a regulation that forbids any stands from being set up within 100 yards of an educational facility and another regulation that allows the mayor to prohibit any specific stand.

Huldai’s lawyer, Tal Shapira, says that “there was never any prohibition against a private person to put on tefillin anywhere they want in Tel Aviv.” Regev retorts: “If you’d ever put on tefillin, you would know that according to Jewish law the tefillin cannot be left hanging, you need a surface. The stand is the surface. Limiting a stand is limiting tefillin.”

Jewish law does not require a surface for putting on tefillin.

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