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Yom Kippur marred by fight over gender-segregated prayer in Tel Aviv

Scuffles break out between worshippers and secular protesters

Protestors scuffle with Orthodox Jews during a Yom Kippur gender-segregated prayer service, Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, Sept. 24, 2023. (Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Fights and scuffles broke out on both Sunday and Monday evening in public places in Tel Aviv when worshippers tried to set up partitions between men and women during public prayer services, while members of the secular community protested against them.

The clashes came after Israel's High Court upheld an earlier ruling by a lower court to allow the municipality to forbid partitions between men and women during public prayer services in Tel Aviv.

Videos of the incident circulating on social media show that, despite the ban, worshippers tried to set up symbolic partitions by hanging Israeli flags between men and women.

Outdoor prayer services during Yom Kippur, Judaism’s most holy day, have become an annual event in Tel Aviv over the last few years. The largest event was held in Dizengoff Square, one of the secular city’s most iconic places.

The Dizengoff prayer service, organized by the Orthodox Jewish organization Rosh Yehudi, aims to unite religious and secular Jews and bring them closer to tradition through such events.

An Orthodox Jewish prayer service requires a mechitzah, a physical barrier to separate men from women. In some synagogues, the mechitzah is more of a symbolic screen, while in others, women must pray on a balcony above the men.

“The Municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo has declined the ‘Rosh Yehudi’ association’s request to conduct Tishrei holiday events and prayers, including Rosh Hashanah, in multiple public areas within the city,” Asaf Eshel, a senior spokesperson for the municipality, told the Times of Israel.

The mechitzah limits “freedom of movement based on gender [and] will not be tolerated,” he added.

Rosh Yehudi has been at the center of the fight over Tel Aviv’s secular character.

Last Tuesday, an event held by the organization in the city ended in chaos as one of the speakers, Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, had to be escorted out by the police after protesters attacked him.

Levinstein is one of the leaders of the Bnei David pre-military academy in Eli, located in Samaria. He has repeatedly expressed sentiments against LGBT ideology and was heavily criticized for it.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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