In a groundbreaking ruling, the Jerusalem District Court upheld an earlier decision of the magistrate’s court that women who wear prayer shawls (“tallitot” in Hebrew) at the Western Wall Plaza are not contravening “local custom” or causing a public disturbance, and therefore should not be arrested.
The issue of equal prayer rights at the site has risen to the forefront of public debate in recent months due to the frequent arrests of women participating in the prayer services that the Women of the Wall activist group holds there….
The Regulations for the Protection of Holy Places to the Jews, dating from 1981, forbid performing religious ceremonies that are “not according to local custom” or that “may hurt the feelings of the worshipers” at the site, where local custom is interpreted to mean Orthodox practice.
These regulations and their interpretation, which a Supreme Court ruling upheld in 2003 and a Justice Ministry directive reiterated in 2005, have been the legal basis for the regular arrests of women who perform Jewish customs at the Western Wall that are usually practiced only by men in Orthodox Judaism….
[But] Judge Moshe Sobell … ruled that the definition of “local custom” did not automatically mean Orthodox practice… In reference to the charges of causing a public disturbance and disturbing the peace, Sobell ruled that even if the women had behaved in a way that was disruptive, they were in no way suspected of violent or verbal behavior that would either disturb the peace or endanger the public.
I take it there’ll be further litigation on this, given the apparent conflict with the earlier Supreme Court ruling. I blogged about the issue last year, so I thought I’d note this new development.