Far-right Orthodox groups seek court ban on pluralism at Western Wall
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Far-right Orthodox groups seek court ban on pluralism at Western Wall

Petition to High Court claims plan for egalitarian section is illegal because government didn’t consult chief rabbis

Reform female and male rabbis pray together at Robinson's Arch, the Western Wall site slated for future egalitarian services, on February 25, 2016. (Y.R/Reform Movement)
Reform female and male rabbis pray together at Robinson's Arch, the Western Wall site slated for future egalitarian services, on February 25, 2016. (Y.R/Reform Movement)

A group of Orthodox Jewish organizations filed an urgent petition with the High Court of Justice on Wednesday against a government plan to allow an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

According to the ultra-Orthodox news site Kol Hazman, the petition claims that the government’s decision earlier this year is illegal and was not made in consultation with the country’s chief rabbis, as required by law. The appellants also claim that the government isn’t authorized to make such a decision, but rather the religious affairs minister.

The petition was filed by LIBA, an organization promoting Orthodox Judaism in Israeli society, and several other religious groups.

A deal was reached in January to set up a non-Orthodox prayer space at the Western Wall, but since then the plan — which met with vociferous opposition from Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox religious figures but hailed as a symbol of Jewish unity in much of the Jewish Diaspora — has encountered a number of setbacks.

Women seen praying in the women's section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, September 30, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Women seen praying in the women’s section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, September 30, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In their petition, the appellants said “the government’s avoidance of holding a consultation process as demanded by law undermines the infrastructure on which the government’s decision was apparently based. Failure to consult with the chief rabbis, as mentioned, constitutes another flaw, which also must lead to the cancellation of the decision, and this of course does not diminish the claim that the decision lacks validity because the aforementioned was approved without authority.”

Earlier this month, a pluralistic prayer service held at the Western Wall to protest the stalled prayer space deteriorated into scuffles between ultra-Orthodox protesters and progressive worshipers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Orthodox protesters of seeking to divide the Jewish people.

The Western Wall compromise, passed in a January 31 cabinet decision that reflected the work of years of negotiations, calls for a permanent prayer platform to be built along the southern end of the Western Wall in an area of the Davidson Archaeological park, otherwise known as Robinson’s Arch, which was to be used for mixed-gender and non-Orthodox prayer services. There is currently a temporary prayer platform set up there in two distinct areas of the park.

Raoul Wootliff and JTA contributed to this report.

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