Fights break out in Tel Aviv over gender segregated Yom Kippur service

An Orthodox group attempted to enforce a traditional service despite Supreme Court ban


The orthodox Jewish group of Rosh Yehudi sets up a gender divider, amongst protests, during a public prayer on Dizengoff Square for Yom Kippur. September 24, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90 *** Local Caption *** ??? ????? ??????? ???? ??????? ????? ??? ????? ?? ????

Violent scuffles broke out in Tel Aviv on Sunday night after protesters tried to enforce gender-segregated worship defying bans from the city's mayor and Israel's Supreme Court.

Activists from Rosh Yehudi, a group whose aim is to increase religious observance among Israeli Jews set up a makeshift mechitzah (barrier) during the public Kol Nidrei service in Dizengoff Square in central Tel Aviv.

The group has held public services at the beginning and end of Yom Kippur for the past three years, often drawing as many as 2,000 worshippers.

Last week Tel Aviv's mayor Run Huldai tried to prevent the service from taking place, in accordance with a ban on gender segregation in public spaces that has been in place in the city since 2018.

Orthodox activists then petitioned Israel's Supreme Court at the end of last week, which sided with a city court that enforced the ban.

Writing for the majority, Justice Yitzhak Amit argued: “As a general rule, gender segregation in the public space is associated in the mind with prohibited discrimination, lack of equality and the exclusion of women in the public space,”

“Given the default of banning gender segregation in the public sphere, the ruling of the lower court aligns with the ruling of this court and with the prevailing public policy.”

Justice Amit also noted that those who wanted to pray alongside the mechitzah would be able to do so at any of the orthodox synagogues in Tel Aviv.

Despite the rulings of both courts, Rosh Yehudi activists still tried to enforce the split in the congregation, leading to outbursts of violence between secular and orthodox groups.

A spokesperson for Rosh Yehudi said before the event: "After many consultations, we decided to hold the prayer in a manner that will adhere to Jewish Law (Halacha) and the law… The prayer at Dizengoff Square has become a touching symbol of love and unity and we are certain that will be the case this year,. 

In a statement, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai vowed to protect the "nature" of Tel Aviv: "I want to clarify clearly—I will not let the nature of our city be changed," he said. "In Tel Aviv, there is no place for gender segregation in the public sphere. Those who don't respect the municipality's instructions and the law won't be given approvals for activities in the city's public spaces."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticised the protestors saying: "To our astonishment, specifically in the Jewish state, on the holiest day for the Jewish people, left-wing demonstrators rioted against Jews during their prayers.

"It seems that there are no boundaries, no norms, and no limitations on hatred from the extremists on the left. I, like most Israeli citizens, reject this. Such violent behavior has no place among us,"

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