Two leading national-religious rabbis have expressed support for accommodating
non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, dean of the
Hesder Yeshiva in Petah Tikva, said one solution could be to designate different
hours for Orthodox and non-Orthodox prayer.
“Jerusalem is at the heart of
the Jewish people, and if we want all of the Jewish people to feel connected
there then we need to find a place for all parts of the Jewish people at the
Western Wall,” Cherlow told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Lau, another senior figure in the national-religious community, said the fact
that only Orthodox worshipers feel at home at the Western Wall is damaging to
the Jewish people and that the “sectoralization” of the site “distances other
Jews from their heritage.”
Both Cherlow and Lau are, however, considered to be on the
liberal wing of the nationalreligious world.
The Western Wall has become
a flashpoint in recent months, with police at the site frequently detaining
participants at the Women of the Wall organization’s monthly prayer service for
wearing so-called “male-style” prayer shawls.
Despite Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent request that Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky
look into the matter of prayer arrangements at the Western Wall, the Prime
Minister’s Office downplayed the significance of the move on Wednesday, saying
that “there are no changes in prayer arrangements at the Western Wall and no
committee has been established.”
Meanwhile, Rabbi of the Western Wall
Shmuel Rabinowitz said that it was business as usual at the
“Nothing has changed,” Rabinowitz told the Post. “We will continue
to do everything so everyone feels at home at the Western Wall without harming
prayer arrangements or Jewish law.”
Netanyahu’s request to Sharansky
relates to the demands of pluralistic groups and non- Orthodox Jewish
denominations that they be accommodated at the Western Wall Plaza.
the Jewish Agency and the Prime Minister’s Office have stated that the prime
minister spoke with Sharansky by telephone to ask him to “check into the issue,”
but following an inquiry by the Post, the office studiously avoided defining
exactly what issue Sharansky has been requested to examine or the mandate he has
“Following requests from world Jewry which reached the Prime
Minister’s Office, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu requested that the Jewish
Agency chairman check into the matter and report back to him,” the Prime
Minister’s Office said.
Rabinowitz said that he was torn between two
extreme factions, the haredim on one side and Women of the Wall on the
“We need to act between the two and find the middle ground,” he
Israeli law, upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003, stipulates that
it is forbidden to conduct a religious ceremony “contrary to accepted practice”
at a holy site, or one that may “hurt the feelings of other
This law is interpreted to preclude women performing
religious practices at the Western Wall traditionally done by men in Orthodox
Jewish practice, such as reading from a Torah scroll, wearing tefillin or a
tallit, or blowing a shofar.
Police have been less stringent regarding
more colorful “female style” prayer shawls worn in a less traditional fashion as
Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman, who was arrested at
the Western Wall in October, said that she was “somewhat optimistic” about the
news that Sharansky had been asked to look into the matter, calling the Jewish
Agency a “serious table” for deliberating on the matter.
however, express concern, saying that she was “trying to have faith” that
Sharansky and the Jewish Agency will take the assignment
Hoffman again dismissed the solution proposed by the Supreme
Court in 2003 to establish a prayer area for non- Orthodox denominations in the
Robinson’s Arch complex, likening it to “sitting at the back of the
“If it’s so holy, if it’s such a hot spot, why don’t the ultra-
Orthodox want to go there?” she asked. “I want to chose wherever I want to sit
on the bus and I don’t need government permission to pray next to the
The Robinson’s Arch area does not have the same amenities and
24-hour accessibility as the Western Wall Plaza, but Hoffman said that even if
the site was upgraded it would not be acceptable unless it were accessible from
“I want to see and be seen,” she said.
added that she was willing to compromise and says one suggestion is for the
Western Wall Plaza to be operated as an Orthodox synagogue during the daily
morning, afternoon and evening prayer services, outside of which the space would
be made accessible to everyone as a “national monument for all,” with some form
of retractable partition built which could be automatically erected and
retracted at prayer times.
“Ultimately, we want to change the way the
plaza is run today, to accommodate the diversity of the Jewish people,” she
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office stressed that the
Western Wall should be a unifying force for Jews, both in Israel and
“Natan Sharansky was turned to because of his unique experience
and abilities in serving as a bridge for all streams within the Jewish people,”
the official said.
Previously, Sharansky helped negotiate a conversion
bill that alienated many Diaspora Jews because it included stringent,
ultra-Orthodox definitions of who is considered a Jew and who is eligible to
immigrate to Israel.
Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.