Chief Rabbinate challenges Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to rule on Western Wall egalitarian section


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Chief Rabbinate said the country’s Supreme Court lacks the jurisdiction to rule on the “intrareligious” struggle involving egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

In a 166-page brief filed Tuesday with the Supreme Court, the Chief Rabbinate said in part, “The courts are not the appropriate tribunal to decide if Jewish law can be changed and the holy sites can be desecrated.”

The brief said the court does not have the authority to make decisions on the topic of religion, and noted that it would not attempt to make religious decisions for Israel’s Muslim and Christian communities. It added that the case is about advancing government and feminist issues, not freedom of religion.

“The Rabbinate does not want to set up a wall or to stop Reform and Conservative visitors from visiting the Western Wall and other holy sites,” the brief says. “Each worshipper uses their own prayer book and prays as he or she pleases, and no one gets involved in their prayers. If the petitioners wish to pray at the Western Wall, they may do so. The Reform and Conservative are not obligated to pray in a mixed area by their beliefs, they simply want to. Their religious freedom is not harmed at all.”

The brief also noted that all decisions of a religious nature involving holy sites have been decided by religious leaders, not the courts, since the beginning of the British Mandate.

Filed in the name of the country’s two chief rabbis, the brief is responding to a petition filed with the Supreme Court by the liberal Jewish movements in Israel and the Women of the Wall calling for the implementation of a government agreement to expand and upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall. The agreement puts the upgraded section on equal footing with the single-sex sections; it would be run by a special committee with no input from the Chief Rabbinate.

In June, the Cabinet suspended the deal passed in 2016 as a result of negotiations between the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government. The suspension came after the government’s haredi Orthodox coalition partners pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scrap the agreement. The government has said it plans to go forward with the expansion of the egalitarian section despite the freeze.