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Dec 23, 2012

Will Immodestly-clad Women at the Kotel soon be arrested?

On June 27, 1967, a couple of weeks after the conclusion of the Six Day War, a law was passed to protect the holy sites in Israel. A number of holy sites had just been recovered in the war, and they needed legislation to ensure the freedom of access to them, as well as to protect their holiness and sanctity.

The original law was fairly vague in detail, but it did punish the offender with imprisonment for anyone who desecrates or damages the holy site, or for anyone who impedes free access to anyone from any of the religions, to the place that is holy to them.

In 1981 the Minister of Religious Affairs amended the law, detailing specifically which sites around the country are included and protected by the law under the title of 'holy sites'.
The list includes:

  • The Kotel, the cave of Shimon HaTzaddik, cave of the Sanhedrin, grave of Ovadiah from Bartenura, grave of Zecharya, monument of Absalom
  • cave of Eliyahu haNavi
  • grave of the Rambam, cave of Rabbi Akiva, cave of Reb Chiya and children
  • grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
  • cave and well of Rashbi, Jewish cemetery, graves of Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, ancient synagogue, the new synagogue
In addition to defining which sites were considered holy sites to be protected by the law, it also defined certain activities that would be considered damaging/desecrating to the holy site.

.  (א)  בתחומי המקומות הקדושים, בכפוף לאמור בתקנת-משנה (ב), אסורים:
(1)  חילול שבת ומועדי ישראל;
(1א)  עריכת טכס דתי שלא על פי מנהג המקום, הפוגע ברגשות ציבור המתפללים כלפי המקום;
(2)  תלבושת שאינה הולמת;
(3)  הצבת קיוסקים או דוכנים, עיסוק ברוכלות או בכל עסק אחר;
(4)  מתן שירותי דת מכל סוג שהוא שלא בהיתר מאת הממונה;
(5)  חלוקת פרסומים שלא בהיתר מאת הממונה;
(6)  נשיאת נאום, הכרזה בקול רם או נשיאת כרזות או שלטים, והכל שלא בהיתר מאת הממונה ולפי תנאיו;
(7)  פשיטת יד וקבלת תרומות, למעט הצבת קופסאות או קופות צדקה במקומות שהועיד לכך הממונה ולמטרות שהוא קבען;
(8)  שחיטה;
(9)  אכילה, שתיה, או עריכת חגיגה מחוץ למקומות שהועיד לכך הממונה;
(10)  עישון;
(11)  לינה מחוץ למקומות שהועיד לכך הממונה;
(12)  הכנסת בעלי חיים.
(ב)  ברחבת הכותל המערבי לא יחול איסור העישון בימי חול אלא באזור הסמוך לכותל המערבי; באזור הסמוך לדרך המוליכה לשער האשפות יחולו האיסורים שבפסקאות (1) עד (3) ו-(7) בלבד.
Interestingly, as a side point due to the recent uproar over the arrest of Women of the wall for bringing their tallitot to the Kotel (even prior to actually wearing them, in 2001 there was an attempt to add another amendment to the law and include holding any religious ceremonies that include taking a sefer torah, donning tefillin and/or tallit, and blowing shofar, on the women's side of the divider. This amendment was not passed. That does not mean women by law should be allowed to wear tallit at the Kotel as it is not defined as an act that is prohibited, because in the list above under the section (1a) it would be prohibited, albeit less explicitly,  under the category of holding a religious ceremony not in accordance with the traditions and customs of the place.

But that was a digression.

Back to the point.

#2 above is the one that is under discussion. #2 states that inappropriate dress is considered desecration of the holy site.

The organization called "Tohar HaMachaneh" - Purity of the Camp - is an organization that considers itself the watchdog of the haredi community and to protect it from modern advancements of lifestyle and culture. The main focus of the organization is issues of "tzniyus", both personal tzniyus and the issues of tzniyus between genders - i.e. keeping the genders apart. The organization is headed by Rabbi Morechai Blau (Bloi)

According to news reports, this organization, Tohar HaMachaneh, has sent a letter to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz, chief rabbi of the holy sites and the ultimate authority on enforcing the law of the protection of the holy sites, demanding that he enforce the law in regards to the immodest dress found all too common at the Kotel. In their letter sent by their lawyer they point out that this is even punishable by imprisonment.

According to the reports, Rabbi Rabinovitz is going to be sitting with representatives of Tohar HaMachaneh to discuss the idea of placing ushers in the Kotel area who will be responsible for improving the level of tzniyus. The articles do not say what they will be tasked with doing, but I imagine they will approach immodestly clad women and encourage them to cover up...
(sources: INN and JDN)

It truly is a problem, and I do not know what the correct solution is. I am pretty sure that giving control to these creeps is not the solution. On the one hand we want all these non-religious and/or traditional Jews from around the country to come and experience the Kotel, be a part of the heritage, be affected by it and to have it as an important place dear to them, and we want the tourists (and, let's be honest, we want their foreign currency to continue flowing as well as their sentiments to be with Israel). On the other hand, it is a holy site and should be treated appropriately.

I would simply point out at this time that if Rabbi Rabinovitz is going to be pressured to enforce definition #2 regarding modesty of dress at the Kotel (and other holy sites), I imagine he should also enforce the other definitions in the list including #7 that states collecting donations is considered desecration of the site. Obviously #10 should be enforced stating that smoking is considered a desecration of the site, with the qualification that during weekdays smoking is allowed in the upper plaza and only banned in the Kotel area below.

Regardless of what is the right or wrong approach to dealing with less-modest women at the Kotel (and other holy sites), they give an awful lot of money to the collectors who are there just as illegally. Tohar HaMachaneh is going to be hurting a lot of people's income by demanding Rabbi Rabinovitz begin to enforce these laws. If he doesn't do this on his own, I expect some other organizations will quickly make the demand to arrest (or just fine them or bar them from the area)  the collectors in response to Tohar's demand to arrest (or just fine them or bar them from the area) the immodest women.

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  1. I don't understand what's wrong with the current situation.
    Currently if people arrive at the kotel without modest clothing (e.g., uncovered shoulders or knees), the security guards and/or other kotel staff provide a shawl and ask people to place it over their shoulders or wrap it around their waist like a skirt. Very rare to see people dressed immodestly at the kotel.

    If people want a higher level of tzniot, e.g., covered elbows, socks, etc, there are sections of the kotel which are completely out of site of any women, so people can daven there without problem.

  2. from the stated exception regarding smoking differentiating between the lower plaza adjacent to the Kotel and between the upper plaza I understand that the rest of the rules apply equally to the upper plaza as they do in the area of the lower plaza.
    Women only cover up in the lower area, not the upper area.

  3. When Jewish women are tourists at the holy sites of other religions they cover up as a matter of respect, and then they go to a synagogue or other holy Jewish place practically au naturel. I have seen this on my travels. I don't think that making immodest dress at the kotel a criminal offense is the way to go, hardly a way for kiruv levavot. On the other hand, more needs to be done to ensure the sanctity of the kotel. And it goes without saying that non-Jewish tourists have no problem covering up at the kotel.

    From a Jewish woman.

  4. People go to eastern temples, churches, mosques and abide by the rules to respect the pilgrims and priests, but here, it's religious coercion.

  5. perhaps because here it is theirs as much as anybody else's, while elsewhere thy are visiting other people's sites

  6. Re collectors, when I was there during Chanukah all the female collectors were on the stairs leading down to the security check, and none were at the plaza or by the wall at all.

  7. When I went with a group of people to Nebi Shuieb (Supposedly Yitro's Burial place)
    a lady had on a dress that went down to her knees. They would not let her in, as part of her knees and her lower legs were uncovered. If other religions (Druze) can be makpid on levels of modesty, certainly we should have our standards as well.


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