Women who read Torah at Wall can be jailed

Jerusalem Post, May 31, 2000
By Nina Gilbert

JERUSALEM - Women who read the Torah at the Western Wall could face a seven-year jail sentence, according to a bill passed in preliminary reading by the Knesset a short while ago.

Members of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction in the Knesset today introduced the bill to the Knesset in an attempt to override last week's High Court of Justice ruling that women could pray as men do at the Wall, once a month.

The bill would make reading from the Torah, or wearing a "talit" (prayer shawl), or laying "tefilin" (phylacteries), as well as blowing the shofar, by women at the Western Wall, a crime punishable by seven years in prison.

The UTJ bill was passed immediately after another bill sponsored by the Shas faction that would formally give the Western Wall the status of an Orthodox synagogue.

The Shas bill was passed by 29-17 while the UTJ bill was approved by 29-25. Both were supported by religious and rightwing MKs.

The bills must pass three readings before becoming law.

UTJ MK Avraham Ravitz said this morning that "Jews must behave at the Wall according to halacha... The seven years is not the issue. We want to make a point that this is very important to us."

Coalition whip Ophir Pines-Paz said: "The members of the UTJ faction have forgotten that they live in a democratic society where people are not imprisoned for their gender."

Meanwhile, State Attorney Edna Arbel is preparing a request on behalf of the government to the court to reconsider its ruling on the grounds that alternative sites are available, and a change in the long-held Jewish tradition could lead to friction.

Cabinet Secretary Yitzhak Herzog recently reached an agreement with Orthodox circles to permit Conservative and Reform prayers at the Robinson's Arch section of the Wall, on a temporary basis. The first such prayers are due to be held at Shavuot next week.

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