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Michael Boyden
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Anarchy on Yom Kippur

The organizers refused to comply with the court decisions and went ahead with its plans for gender segregated prayers
Israel Zeira, head of Rosh Yehudi, an Orthodox group, speaks with police officers as the group sets up a gender divider, amid protests, during a Yom Kippur public prayer event in Dizengoff Square, September 24, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)
Israel Zeira, head of Rosh Yehudi, an Orthodox group, speaks with police officers as the group sets up a gender divider, amid protests, during a Yom Kippur public prayer event in Dizengoff Square, September 24, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)

A democracy can only flourish and survive in a society that acquiesces and is prepared to play the game by the rules. That is one of the reasons why the courts came down so heavily on the key figures who were involved in the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, former leader of the right-wing extremist group Proud Boys, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the Capitol insurrection.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines anarchy as “a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority”.

On Yom Kippur we saw an example of civil disobedience that can only be described as anarchy. An organization called “Rosh Yehudi,” founded by right-wing religious Zionists, tried to organize gender-segregated services on public land in Tel Aviv.

Rosh Yehudi” describes itself as a movement that “arose in response to a growing thirst for Jewish identity” and claims to follow the teachings of Rav Kook.

Its leader is Israel Zeira , who was formerly head of Yeshivat Shavei Hevron, which is located in the heart of Hebron. His political and religious orientation is unmistakable.

Rosh Yehudi” approached the Tel Aviv municipality with its plans to hold gender-segregated services at Dizengoff Square on Yom Kippur. Its request was turned down because it would have involved the erection of a physical barrier on public land separating men from women. Not prepared to accept the refusal, it turned to the Tel Aviv District Court, which rejected its petition. An appeal was then launched through Israel’s Supreme Court, which also ruled that gender segregation on public land was not permitted.

The Orthodox Jewish group Rosh Yehudi sets up a gender divider made of Israeli flags in defiance of a municipality decision at a public prayer service in Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur. September 24, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)

However, Rosh Yehudi” refused to comply with the decisions of both the Tel Aviv municipality and Israel’s courts and went ahead with its plans. The police failed to intervene (not surprisingly given that Ben-Gvir, leader of the ultra-right-wing religious party Otzma Yehudit, is Minister of National Security), and the resulting chaos at Dizengoff Square, in which residents who objected to gender segregation were involved, resulted in worshippers having to retreat to a nearby synagogue.

Without entering into the question at this time as to whether gender-segregated services should be permitted on public land, what is clear is that “Rosh Yehudi” refused to comply with two court rulings. In any functioning democracy, their behavior would be viewed as being in contempt of court and would have resulted in imprisonment, fines or a seizure of assets. Of course, none of that will happen.

Rather than criticizing “Rosh Yehudi” for not abiding by the courts’ rulings, Israel’s prime minister took advantage of the opportunity to sow further discord, and is quoted as having said: “It would appear that there are no boundaries, there are no norms, and there are no limits to the hatred of left-wing extremists.”

The leaders of “Rosh Yehudi” surely know that, the Deputy High Priest, Rabbi Chanina, taught us to pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, we would swallow each other up alive (Pirkei Avot 3:2).

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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