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Shas proposes bill to criminalize ‘inappropriate behavior’ at Western Wall

Violators could receive a six-month sentence or be fined 10,000 shekels.

Members of the Women of the Wall hold prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Nov. 5, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Members of the Women of the Wall hold prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Nov. 5, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, a member of the governing coalition, will introduce a bill to make “inappropriate behavior” at the Western Wall a criminal offense.

The legislation defines inappropriate behavior as conducting mixed prayer (men and women together), playing a musical instrument, inappropriate clothing, and smoking.

Anyone who violates one of the sections may receive a six-month prison sentence or be ordered to pay a fine of 10,000 shekels ($2,800).

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation, a coalition committee that decides whether a bill will receive government backing, is scheduled to debate the Shas proposal on Sunday.

The bill states: “Since the Western Wall was liberated, its status and preservation of its sanctity have not yet been regulated by a special law applicable to the Kotel. This creates from time to time a violation of the sacred values ​​of the people of Israel. Therefore, it is proposed to lay down provisions in the law that will regulate both the order of prayer at the plaza of the Western Wall as well as the status and sanctity of the entire Western Wall plaza.”

The bill sparked criticism from both opposition and coalition members.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party posted to social media: “This legislation means one thing: The Wall is no longer for everyone. The most extreme government in the history of the country continues to tear the people of Israel apart. They will not decide for us who is more Jewish and who is less Jewish.

“If this legislation passes, Israel is no longer a free country. Instead of a symbol of unity, the Wall will become a symbol of the oppression of women, discrimination against the secular, the dissolution of our alliance with world Jewry,” Lapid said.

Member of Knesset Gilad Kariv from the opposition Labor Party, who is also a Reform rabbi, said, “The ultra-Orthodox politicians are thwarting the implementation of the historic compromise plan at the Western Wall and are also demanding that the Chief Rabbinate be given an overriding monopoly on the holy site.”

Member of the coalition and Minister of Culture and Sports Miki Zohar (Likud) also opposes the legislation: “The Western Wall belongs to all the people of Israel and is sacred to every Jew and Jewess and there is no need for laws to maintain the sanctity of the place. Maintaining the status quo is critical to maintaining the unity of the nation.”

The Women of the Wall, a group whose “central mission” is to enable women “to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah, collectively and aloud, at the Western Wall,” said:

“The Women of the Wall will continue to pray in their own way, as they have done for the past three decades. However, we must understand: This is an hour of emergency for everyone who values ​​a Jewish and democratic Israel, for everyone who sees an important value in preserving the Western Wall as the home of the entire Jewish people.”

Shas will likely soften the terms of the bill and remove the financial penalty, a party source told Channel 12.

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