Human rights group petitions court against Tel Aviv’s restrictions on public Jewish prayer

City refuses to allow partitions for group-prayer on Yom Kippur in Dizengoff Square, although it accommodates religious Muslims with no problem.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

An equal rights group is asking the District Court to force Tel Aviv to allow a religious prayer service to take place in public on Yom Kippur Monday as Jewish law requires, after the municipality said partitions could not be used to segregate the sexes.

The Freedom and Human Dignity Forum in Israel based their urgent administrative petition on the illegality of the city’s demand.

There is no law, they said, prohibiting Jewish prayer the Orthodox way, where men and women are separated, nor do the city’s by-laws include the authority to ban partitions.

It is also “unconstitutional,” the petition pointed out, as it crosses the line into illegal discrimination in two ways.

First, Muslim prayers separated by gender as Muslim law also demands, have taken place in public in the city for years, with the city’s assistance.

“Muslim prayers are held in the city separately, using a partition, without interference (and they are held legally),” wrote the plaintiffs.

“Not long ago, a mass prayer and sermon event was held in the city park – Charles Clore Park – in honor of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The fences of none other than the Tel Aviv municipality were used as a partition in the location.”

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Second, it violates the notion of equality between the sexes.

“If a partition is not erected, the prayers can only service one gender,” the Forum stated. “Banning partitions will lead to only men participating in the service, if it even takes place. Thus a partition ban means the exclusion of women.”

The petition noted that the Rosh Yehudi (Jewish Head) organization has held both the opening and closing services of Yom Kippur in the heart of Tel Aviv for several years in the traditional manner, without any objections from the municipality.

“The prayers became a magnet for a wide and diverse public. Religious, traditional, secular – everyone who looked, found their place in the moving prayer on the street of a city,” the Forum stated.

The “shameful decision,” it wrote in urging the court to void it, “marks a new low in the annals of the respondent, in the annals of the state. Since the rule of the British Mandate … there has not been heard in the Land of Israel a ban on Jewish prayer accessories, on a partition – until now.”

“The petitioners regret the need to apply to the honorable court in order to allow Jewish prayer in the Jewish state, as if there could be the slightest doubt,” it concluded.

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When the ruling was announced, Rosh Yehudi, which is not a partner to the petition, said that it would not hold the services unless partitions are allowed.

“You can pray with partitions, with love and without discriminating against anyone, and you can discriminate, exclude and fight unnecessary wars, even without partitions. Choose which side you are on,” the group had said.

According to an Israel Hayom report Tuesday, Rosh Yehudi has asked halachic decisor Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu what they should do, and the rabbi answered that the prayers should go ahead even without a partition, but a final decision has yet to be made.

As Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, is this Monday, a hearing on the issue has been set for Wednesday.