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Hasidic Jews don prayer shawls and phylacteries (or tefillin) to pray and discuss the Talmud at the Western Wall.

Hasidic Jews don prayer shawls and phylacteries (or tefillin) to pray and discuss the Talmud at the Western Wall.

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p class=”western” align=”left”>By MICHELE CHABIN


© 2015 Religion News Service

JERUSALEM — An Israeli women’s rights organization has petitioned the High Court to strike down a rule banning women from accessing Torah scrolls at the Western Wall.

The Center for Women’s Justice filed the petition Sunday (Nov. 29) on behalf of four female activists who say Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi and administrator of the Western Wall, lacks the legal authority to withhold Torah scrolls from any Jewish worshipper.

In 2010 Rabinowitz, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who adheres to the most stringent form of Judaism, issued a directive banning visitors from bringing Torahs to the wall. Since then the site’s many scrolls have been available only on the men’s side of the gender-separated prayer space.

At the time Women of the Wall, a feminist prayer group that has long demanded the right to read a Torah in the women’s section of the wall, accused Rabinowitz of issuing the directive to make it impossible to do so. The four petitioners belong to Original Women of the Wall, a breakaway group.

A CJW statement said Rabinowitz has instructed state-appointed guards and police, as well as ushers of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which he leads, “to prevent women from bringing Torah scrolls to the Wall and to take women for police questioning if they attempt to do so. In addition, he has prevented women from obtaining scrolls from the men’s section by constructing moat-like barriers defended by police.”

In a separate petition to a Jerusalem court on Sunday, CJW sought nearly $40,000 in damages against Rabinowitz for violating the Law Prohibiting Discrimination in Products, Services, and Entry into Places of Entertainment and Public Places.

Susan Weiss, CJW’s founder and executive director, told RNS the petitions are a demand for equality and government accountability.

This petition is what happens when you give authority to state bodies or groups that use regulations to expand their own jurisdictional scope and powers,” Weiss said.

(Michele Chabin is a contributor to RNS.)