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HIGH HOLIDAYS 2023

Rabbis blast Tel Aviv mayor for ban on traditional Yom Kippur service

The Coalition for Jewish values claimed Ron Huldai's move "will preclude public prayer in accordance with Jewish tradition."

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai banned gender-separated Yom Kippur services in the city's Dizengoff Square. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai banned gender-separated Yom Kippur services in the city's Dizengoff Square. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

The Coalition for Jewish Values, which represents more than 2,500 Orthodox rabbis in the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom, on Thursday published an open letter accusing Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai of discrimination over his decision to ban gender-separated Yom Kippur services in the city’s Dizengoff Square.

“We deplore your decision to prohibit the use of a mechitzah to separate between men and women during the annual Yom Kippur prayer services at Kikar Dizengoff sponsored by Rosh Yehudi,” wrote the organization, claiming Huldai’s move “will preclude public prayer in accordance with Jewish tradition.”

According to the Jewish leaders associated with the Coalition for Jewish Values, Huldai’s “coerced secularism” effectively deprives “thousands of Tel Aviv residents of the opportunity to participate in prayer services on the holy day of Yom Kippur.”

The letter noted that three months ago, the mayor authorized a gender-separated event in honor of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, and warned this “disgraceful” double standard would “antagonize faithful Jews across the world.”

“It is not too late to retract this evil declaration, and we urge you to do so immediately,” concluded the missive to Huldai, which was signed by rabbis Steven Pruzansky (Modi’in, Israel), Yoel Schonfeld (Queens, N.Y.) and Jonathan Guttentag (Manchester, United Kingdom)

Rosh Yehudi, a Tel Aviv-based Jewish nonprofit that seeks to connect young people in the city to their roots, has in recent months aroused the wrath of left-wing politicians and activists for its mass public prayer events.

In April, Reuven Ladianski, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, said he intended to “bring to justice” Rosh Yehudi after it held a Passover service in Dizengoff Square. Ladianski “demanded that the organizers be fined and prosecuted to the fullest extent possible,” he said in a Facebook post.

Earlier this week, Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, one of the heads of a military preparatory academy in the town of Eli in Samaria, required police protection after he was attacked and chased while attending a Torah class at Rosh Yehudi’s synagogue in Tel Aviv.

In footage of the harassment, protesters shout, “You are nothing, you have no God. You are scum. You are not Jews. Get out of here.” Others yell, “Go away, fascist. Go back to the settlements. You don’t belong in this place.”

“We were surprised by the intensity of the hatred, the blunt words and the violent behavior of the mob,” said Rosh Yehudi CEO Israel Zaira, adding the protesters acted like “savages.”

“At the same time, we understand that they came to scare us on account of the activity of the yeshivah and the mass prayer we will be holding at Dizengoff Square on Yom Kippur,” Zaira said.

On Thursday, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court upheld the city’s decision to bar Rosh Yehudi from separating men and women at the event, rejecting a petition filed by the Israeli Forum for Human Freedom and Dignity.

Judge Hadas Ovadia claimed in her ruling that “separation on the basis of gender constitutes illegal discrimination in Dizengoff Square, which is not a holy place for Jews.”

The Magistrate’s Courts serve as a court of first instance in civil matters, and Thursday’s decision can still be appealed in the Tel Aviv District Court. Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, this year starts on the evening of Sept. 24.

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