Fear of Extremist Religious Violence Leads to Court Decision Barring Women from Praying at Religious Shrine

I didn’t hear about this when the decision was handed down in 2003, and when it was apparently enforced in 2009 and 2010, but I just noticed it and thought it would be a good addition to our Blasphemy category and our Freedom of Speech Restricted by Fear of Thugs category.

From Prof. Sherry Colb, about the 2003 decision; other press accounts echo this (if any of you can point me to an English text of the opinions, please do):

Earlier this month [April 2003], the Israeli Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, refused to permit women to pray out loud at the Western Wall (“the Wall”) in Jerusalem. Known in Hebrew as the “Kotel Ha’Maaravi,” the Wall is all that remains of the second Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans almost 2000 years ago. It is one of the holiest sites in existence for Jews around the world.

The plaintiffs in the case called themselves the “Women of the Wall.” They asked the Israeli Court to recognize their right to pray out loud at the Kotel, after they had repeatedly encountered physical and verbal abuse from the Ultra-Orthodox each time they tried to do so on their own.

The women had hoped and expected the Court to agree that they, as a matter of equality, should be able to assemble and pray just like men have done for as long as the Wall has stood. Besides formalizing the legal equality of women, such a ruling could help fortify the resolve of police who must invariably come to the women’s aid and repel acts of aggression.

On April 6, the women’s hopes were dashed. The Israeli High Court concluded that because of the violence that plaintiffs’ religious practice provokes on the part of Ultra-Orthodox spectators, the Women of the Wall would have to conduct their services elsewhere [at another portion of the Wall]. In the estimation of the Court, female assembly and vocal prayer at the Wall could endanger public order and lead to rioting by Ultra-Orthodox Jews.

And in 2009 and 2010, two women were indeed arrested for praying at a portion of the Wall covered by the 2003 decision: “Nofrat Frenkel was pushed into a police van and detained for the ‘crime’ of reading from a Torah scroll and wearing a tallit, and Anat Hoffman, a founder of Women of the Wall, was arrested, interrogated and fingerprinted for a similar ‘crime.’”