Tel Aviv Capitulates to ‘Rosh Yehudi’ in High Court

Oct 6, 2023 3:45 pm | Ticker, Virtual Jerusalem

After a tough legal battle, the Tel Aviv municipality caved in to the demands of the Orthodox group, Rosh Yehudi, to hold their Simchat Torah event Saturday. This came after the High Court judges heavily criticized the municipality’s behavior, leading to a reluctant agreement to let the Simhat Torah celebration proceed in the city center. However, the condition stands that no physical barriers segregating genders will be erected.

Last month, the municipality and the conservative religious organization locked horns over a controversial Yom Kippur event, which ignited tensions across Israel’s deeply divided society. Citing violations of the permit terms at the September 24 Yom Kippur gathering, the city had initially revoked Rosh Yehudi’s permit for the upcoming Simhat Torah event. They argued that the group wouldn’t abide by city rules, given the previous transgressions.

Nevertheless, during Friday’s hearing, the High Court judges indicated that the city’s concerns weren’t sufficient to curb freedom of worship. In response, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai expressed the city’s reluctant acceptance of the court’s urging, stating, “Even when the court does not hold my position, I respect it.”

Meanwhile, MK Simcha Rothman of Religious Zionism hailed the High Court’s decision, saying it brought “a semblance of sanity and calm to Tel Aviv.” Opposition’s MK Gideon Sa’ar echoed a similar sentiment, suggesting that the municipality’s initial refusal was clouded by bias and “irrelevant considerations tied to the upcoming [municipal] elections.”

Rosh Yehudi, known for promoting a more Orthodox way of life, defended its previous use of a bamboo frame with flags as a divider between men and women during Yom Kippur. The city deemed this a violation, igniting secular activists to dismantle the divider and disrupt the prayers.

The current tension is perceived by many as a reflection of the broader secular pushback against the Orthodox Jewish practices, especially given the conservative leanings of Netanyahu’s government, which includes five religious parties. Activists see events like these as attempts to bolster religious influence in public spaces.

Rosh Yehudi remains unapologetic about their mission. Founder Israel Zeira emphasized, “Promoting the Torah is legitimate and we’re doing it without an ounce of coercion or provocation.”

Recent events at Dizengoff Square further highlight the strained relations between secular and religious groups. A video went viral, showing a man bumping into Rabbi Leo Dee during a prayer service. Although both parties dismissed the incident as accidental, or not serious, it testifies to the fragile atmosphere and how easily perceptions can be skewed in today’s volatile environment.