Prayer activist group Women of the Wall resolved this week to lobby the
government to create a third prayer section in front of the Western Wall that
would be under the administration of a multi-denominational, gender-equal
The move is essentially a proposal whereby Women of the Wall would
agree, under certain conditions, to relocate its services from the women’s
section of the Western Wall plaza to a newly created area, as long as the group
received administrative and budgetary clout in the site’s management.
group has held prayer services in the main women’s section, leading to
objections from ultra-Orthodox protesters.
Violent clashes and arrests
have been a frequent occurrence since the group began holding
“After going through a comprehensive and emotionally trying
decision-making process, Women of the Wall’s multi-denominational Executive
Board has voted in vast majority to create a future in which, under the right
conditions, the women’s prayer group would pray in an equal and fully integrated
third section of the Kotel,” the group said in a press release.
area will be governed not by [Western Wall Chief Rabbi] Shmuel Rabinowitz, but
by a board of Jewish leaders, including equal representation of women, who value
women’s prayer and reject all forms of violence,” it said.
organization claimed victory in a groundbreaking legal ruling earlier this year,
when the Jerusalem District Court upheld an earlier decision by the local
magistrate’s court that women who wore prayer shawls (“tallitot” in Hebrew) at
the Western Wall Plaza were not contravening “local custom” or causing a public
disturbance, and therefore should not be arrested.
The issue of equal
prayer rights at the site has risen to the forefront of public debate in recent
months due to the frequent arrests of women participating in the prayer services
that the Women of the Wall hold there.
The controversy prompted Jewish
Agency chairman Natan Sharansky to seek a compromise that would satisfy all
sides. The chairman’s plan involves the expansion of the Western Wall Plaza to
comprise an area running from the northern end of the site down to the southern
end of the wall by Robinson’s Arch.
The plan calls for the current prayer
area at Robinson’s Arch, which the Supreme Court designated for non-Orthodox
prayer in 2003, to be elevated to the same level as the plaza area, and for the
area running along the Western Wall to be divided into three equal sections –
one for men, one for women, and one egalitarian – with a single entrance to the
Women of the Wall has expressed opposition to a proposal
by cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, which would not allow for the elevation
of Robinson’s Arch and would essentially cut off the prayer section from the
Western Wall stones.
The group was adamant that its new proposal was not
tantamount to a compromise, but a necessary shift in strategy in light of the
prevailing reality. It said it would continue to pray in the main women’s
section until the government agreed to its conditions for the new, egalitarian
The decision engendered praise from the US Conservative
Rabbinical Assembly Executive Vice President Rabbi Julie
Schonfeld and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick
welcomed “the news that Women of the Wall has reached a decision in regard to
the government’s anticipated offer to create an interim solution towards the
implementation of the Sharansky Plan for the Kotel.”
While they said that
“the search for compromise amidst the legitimate struggle for equality is
difficult and painful,” they added that the Conservative Movement looked forward
to “working with WoW leadership and with the Reform Movement to clarify and
implement these long-needed changes at the Kotel and to continue to work towards
increased religious pluralism in Israel.”
Sam Sokol contributed to this