(photo credit: ITZIK EDRI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein promised at a ceremony opening the Knesset’s renovated synagogue on Monday that it would soon feature a “beautiful women’s section.”
At the ceremony, a small women’s section was placed in the back corner of the room, with an opaque mechitza barrier that reached close to the ceiling.
During a festive afternoon mincha prayer service led by Shas MK Yitzhak Vaknin, the women were behind the cloth and ornamental iron barrier, but a female photographer removed the cloth ahead of a speech by Edelstein.
Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias- Verbin, who attended the service, said she found the women’s section “shocking” and that she was glad Edelstein had promised to change it.
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, who is Orthodox, said, “The men’s section is respectful, but this synagogue respects only men and hides women and tells them not to come.” He said he doubted women would come to the synagogue in its current layout.
When Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, who is an Orthodox feminist, saw what had been planned for the women’s section two weeks ago, she expressed outrage to Edelstein’s office.
When she saw Monday that key changes had not been made ahead of the rededication ceremony, she shouted at Edelstein’s aides.
“We promised a glorious women’s section and it isn’t that yet,” Edelstein said at the ceremony, apologizing to the women who crowded into the small space.
Aides to Edelstein said the women’s section would be moved to the front of the room and would be ready within a month. A meeting attended by Edelstein’s aides and Azaria was held Monday night to plan the move.
Bayit Yehudi faction head MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli said she was just relieved that women were not behind a wall in the synagogue, as they had been before the renovation. She said at the ceremony that she did not intend to complain.
However, Orthodox women sitting next to Moalem-Refaeli at the ceremony called the women’s section “suffocating.”
The ceremony was attended by the chief rabbis of Jerusalem and a dozen male MKs.
Edelstein expressed hope at the event that the prayers uttered in the synagogue would be heard three floors up in the Knesset plenum.
He said that after praying regularly at the synagogue, he realized it needed to be enlarged.
“The synagogue is the soul and the spirit of the parliament building,” Edelstein said.