Israel’s Religious Affairs Ministry and its Sephardi chief rabbi have issued a protest of the recent enforcement of a ban on ultra-Orthodox prisoners donning hats and jackets during prayer, condemning the rule as a “violation of religious freedom.”
The prison service implemented the directive earlier this month over fears the inmates’ black civilian garb, which bears some resemblance to the guards’ black uniforms, could aid them in breaking out of prison, according to Israeli television reports.
In a letter sent on Monday to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who oversees the service, Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay (Shas) branded the new rules a “serious violation of religious freedom, which is a basic constitutional right.”
He was quoting a religious opinion by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who also sent a letter to Erdan last week condemning the new directive.
“According to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim, 91), there is a matter of wearing a special garment for prayer, in order to fulfill the commandment of preparing to approach your God, Israel,” wrote Yosef, according to the ultra-Orthodox Kikar HaShabat website. “Which means that preventing prisoners who are accustomed to wearing a hat and jacket during prayers hurts their freedom of religion and worship.”
According to the Haredi website, among the prisoners affected by the new ban is former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger, who is serving a three-year prison term for corruption.
Erdan did not immediately comment on the requests.
The prison service told Hadashot news earlier this month the order was not new, but did not explain why it was now being enforced. It was designed to prevent the prisoners from slipping away unnoticed by the guards to escape, reports said.
The directive primarily affects inmates in Maasiyahu prison’s Orthodox wing 10, which offers eased religious restrictions on prisoners. The wing — which is generally seen as more accommodating to its detainees — also formerly housed ex-president Moshe Katsav, jailed on rape charges, and former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was incarcerated on graft charges, and a slew of other high-profile inmates.