Sisterhood Blog

Holding Leaders Accountable for Kotel Violence Against Women

By Micah Kelber

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These days, we’re hearing about more ultra-Orthodox men who are turning to increasingly hateful tactics to prevent women from praying as they wish on their side of the Western Wall’s mechitza. Recently, they hurled chairs over the divider, even before the women had a chance to begin their davening. Once the police were called, the chair-throwing stopped; two men were arrested.

But there are some things to follow up on:

1). How many women have to be physically hurt before the Ministry of Religion and the Chief Rabbinate say, unequivocally, that this is unacceptable? The Prime Minister needs to take an unambiguous stand against this violence.

2). It seems to me from the video that there were more than two men involved. What should happen to the men who participate in such incidents? They shouldn’t be allowed back.

Give their names and photos to the guards at the entrances to the plaza, and simply turn them away when they try to enter. That’s what would happen if they acted so hatefully at a less holy place. Kal v’chomer — all the more so — at a place where everyone is required to be on their best behavior, they should be excluded at least until they show that they can act in a manner that befits it. A committee of women should be convened to decide when they have demonstrated their ability to act decently towards women.

3). Here’s a question: I don’t know much about Israeli civil law, but what would have happened if someone would have gotten seriously hurt? Who could have been sued? Just the men who threw them? If there were rabbis encouraging this could their shuls be sued? Could the Ministry of Religion be sued or the City of Jerusalem? If the dignity of the Kotel or the side of decency doesn’t lead those in charge of the Kotel to insist on peacefulness there, then the threat of a very expensive lawsuit might.

4). Israeli lawmakers passed legislation years ago that punishes anyone caught doing violence at Israel’s holy sites. Avinoam Sharom, an Israeli lawyer, sent me this information about the relevant laws. One wonders if these are being applied and how, from around the world, this case can be followed. The penal code states:

A person who willfully and without proving lawful justification or excuse disturbs any meeting of persons lawfully assembled for religious worship, or willfully assaults a person officiating at any such meeting or any of the persons there assembled is liable to imprisonment for three years.”

And The Protection of the Holy Places Law, adds:

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.

Women and men should let the Prime Minister know that he cannot look the other way when women are threatened with violence like this. He needs to lean on his ministers to deal with this once and for all — or find other people who can solve this problem. With all the rhetoric about Israel needing to protect herself, we should insist that Israel start by protecting women at its holiest place.


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