Current Legal Status
For the most updated legal decisions, click:
- DOWNLOAD the District Court decision on April 25, 2013
- DOWNLOAD Official translation of Penina Lahav’s interpretation of the Dictrict Court decision April 25, 2013*
- DOWNLOAD the Magistrate Court decision on 5 women arrested on April 11, 2013 Rosh Hodesh Iyar
In April 2013 the Jerusalem District Court handed down its decision in The State of Israel, Israel Police vs. Lesley Sachs, Bonnie Riva Ras, Sylvie Rozenbaum, Rabbi Valerie Stessin, and Sharona Kramer, the five women who were arrested on April 11, 2013 while praying at the Western Wall. Judge Moshe Sobel decided stated that there was no cause for arrest and that the women did not disturb the public order. Sobel continued to further interpret the various legal roadblocks that have been used against Women of the Wall throughout years of struggle to pray freely at the Western Wall:
The Judge declared that the Supreme Court decision of 2003 never intended to serve as an injunction which would apply criminal violations to women. Likewise this decision did not ban Women of the Wall from praying at the Kotel. He added that there is no reasonable suspicion in which the women are violating the Supreme Court decisions. In reference to the Supreme Court recommendation that the women pray in Robinson’s Arch, Sobell declared that this does not prohibit the women from praying at the Western Wall in the women’s section, and certainly it does not imply a criminal violation for this act.
Regarding the restriction within the Law of Holy Places in which visitors at the Western Wall are to pray and hold religious celebrations according to the “local custom”, the judge declared that the women are not violating this law. He stated that the legal proceedings of Women of the Wall establish that the “local custom” is to be interpreted with National and pluralistic implications, not necessarily Orthodox Jewish customs. Thus, the accused women did not violate this law.
In reference to the accusation of endangering or disturbing the public peace, the judge ruled that even if the women had behaved in a way that disturbed the public order, they were never a danger to the public peace. The women were in no way suspect of violent or verbal behaviors that would endanger the public.
Judge Sobel ruled that there are to be no limitations imposed on the accused women.
Adv. David Barhoum and Adv. Einat Horovitz represented Women of the Wall in Court. Barhoum said, “The fact that the District Court adopted the ruling of the Magistrates Court bears great weight, and this shows a changing legal reality which will effect any future arrests of Women of the Wall. There is no doubt that this decision is crying out and calling to the authorities to change their approach to the prayers of Women of the Wall.” Horowitz asserted, “The most important aspect of this ruling is the fact that Women of the Wall’s prayer in the women’s section of the Western Wall does not violate the “local custom” and therefore does not imply a reasonable doubt of violation of the Law of Holy Places The court has rejected any reasonable cause for a policy of repeated detainment and arrests of Women of the Wall by police.”
Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall Chair said, “Today Women of the Wall Liberated the Western Wall for all Jewish People. We did it for the eight year old girl who can now dream of having her Bat Mitzvah at the Wall. We did it for the great diversity of Jews in the world, all of whom deserve to pray according to their belief and custom at the Western Wall.”
In May 2013, Women of the Wall prayed out loud for the first time ever, free to wear tallitot (prayer shall) and tefillin (phylacteries), and protected by police. Though protested by five thousand ultra-Orthodox men and women. The men were enraged, throwing chairs, bottles, bags of garbage and even rocks. Three police officers were injured while defending Women of the Wall’s prayer.
HOWEVER, the one thing that women are still not allowed to do is bring in and read from a Sefer Torah. Despite the important District Court ruling, there is a regulation from 2010 which forbids women from bringing a Torah into the Kotel Plaza. This is the current legal road block to free prayer.
Until recently, women did not have full religious freedom in Israel. Please read below all of the forbidden acts by law.
As Israel does not have a constitution, the legal rights and obligations are enumerated in different laws. Despite the lack of constitutional protections, the right to freedom of religion has been recognized by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right that the State needs to guarantee to all residents of Israel. Since the enactment of Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty in 1992, the Supreme Court interpreted freedom of religion to be part of the concept of Human Dignity, effectively granting Freedom of Religion status as a constitutional right.
These are the laws specifically applicable to our cause:
- 1948 Declaration on the Establishment of the State of Israel: “the state will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of religion, conscience, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the Holy Places of all religions”.
- Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty states:
- Fundamental human rights in Israel are founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life, and the principle that all persons are free; these rights shall be upheld in the spirit of the principles set forth in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.
- The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
- There shall be no violation of the life, body or dignity of any person as such.
- There shall be no violation of rights under this Basic Law except by a law befitting the values of the State of Israel, enacted for a proper purpose, and to an extent no greater than is required.
- The Protection of Holy Places Law of 1967 states:
- The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.
- a. Whosoever desecrates or otherwise violates a Holy Place shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of seven years.
b. Whosoever does anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of five years.
3. This Law shall add to, and not derogate from, any other law.
4. The Minister of Religious Affairs is charged with the implementation of this Law, and he may, after consultation with, or upon the proposal of, representatives of the religions concerned and with the consent of the Minister of Justice make regulations as to any matter relating to such implementation.
5. This Law shall come into force on the date of its adoption by the Knesset (The Law was adopted by the Knesset on June 27, 1967).
- The Regulations for the Protection of Holy Places to the Jews, 1981 by the Ministry of the Religion and the Ministry of Justice forbidding the following acts in the Holy Places mentioned in these regulations, including the Western Wall:
Desecrating the Sabbath and Jewish holidays; conducting a religious ceremony contrary to accepted practice; wearing unfit attire; peddling; conducting religious services, distributing publications or making speeches without permission from the local official of the Ministry of Religious Affairs; begging; slaughtering; eating, drinking and smoking; sleeping; and bringing in animals.
- The provision forbidding “a religious ceremony not according to local custom, which may hurt the feelings of the worshipers toward the place” was added to the regulations especially to limit the worshiping of Women of the Wall.
- Any of the above acts may entail a punishment of six to twelve months’ imprisonment or a fine of NIS 500.
- Israel has not recognized the Mandatory Status Quo Arrangement and has not publicly guaranteed to uphold the status quo arrangement on the Western Wall.[e1]
- A general status quo has been preserved over the years concerning the general rights of all religious communities in all the Holy Places in Israel. However, in the past 5 years there is a shift toward stricter and more extreme interpretations of religious limitations especially at the Western Wall. The new instructions include stricter enforcement of limitations of women to freely pray at the western wall, enforcing gender segregation and “modest dressing” rules in all areas of the western wall plaza (not only the part divided to men’s and women’s sections) and various other restrictions.
For more on our history, click here.
*Legal Insights no. 9, The Law Online: Human Rights, The Emile Zola Chair for Human Rights, the Haim Striks School of Law, COMQS, ISRAEL