Original Women of Wall reject compromise at site

Organization says it will not be bound by emerging deal between Women of the Wall and non-Orthodox denominations to create pluralistic prayer space at Robinson’s Arch along the Western Wall.

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January 29, 2016 03:41
3 minute read.
Women of the Wall carry a Torah scroll into the women's section of the Western Wall plaza

Women of the Wall carry a Torah scroll into the women's section of the Western Wall plaza. (photo credit: WOMEN OF THE WALL)

The Original Women of the Wall organization has said it will not be bound by the emerging agreement between Women of the Wall and the non-Orthodox denominations to create a pluralistic prayer space at Robinson’s Arch along the Western Wall.

Details of the agreement emerged on Wednesday, but were not confirmed by Women of the Wall or representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements who were involved in the negotiations.

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One of the primary clauses of the deal is that WOW, as it has committed to in the past, will agree not to conduct its prayer services in the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza.

Original Women of the Wall, a group which includes founding members of WoW and which broke away from WOW, said on Thursday, however, that it will continue to hold prayer services at the Western Wall and pray as they see fit, including with prayer shawls and tefillin.

“If you look at the charter of WOW from 20 years ago it talks of prayer in the women’s section of the Western Wall.

We are thrilled if other groups want to pray at the Robinson’s Arch site, but that is not what we will do,” Cheryl Birkner Mack, a prominent member of OWOW, told The Jerusalem Post.

“We will continue to pray at the women’s section of the Kotel with talit and tefilin for those who chose to do so,” she continued, adding that the group hopes a petition of theirs to the High Court of Justice to allow women to read from the Torah at the women’s section of the main site will soon be granted.

Birkner Mack, a former board member of WOW, emphasized that the landmark ruling in 2013 by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court gave women the full right to pray in the women’s section of the Western Wall with prayer shawls and tefilin and that OWOW would not concede these rights.

“The demand was always to be able to pray at the Kotel, and the prayer services there after Sobel’s ruling, apart from a few months at the beginning, have been peaceful and passed off without problem. To think this cannot continue is misguided.”

OWOW’s stance could create legal complications for the slated agreement among WOW, the non-Orthodox denominations and the government, since OWOW will not consider themselves bound by it while the haredi political and rabbinic leadership are unlikely to tolerate women’s prayer with prayer shawls and tefilin at the women’s section of the Western Wall once the new pluralist prayer area is in place.

Between 2010 and 2013, participants in WOW’s prayer services were routinely arrested and detained by the police for donning prayer shawls and tefilin, which it was claimed violated local custom and offended the sensitivities of other worshipers.

Sobel’s ruling voided these claims.

According to a report on the Walla news website, WOW has agreed to move its services to Robinson’s Arch, some 50 meters south of the Western Wall plaza, following an agreement by the government to several of WOW’s demands.

According to the report, the government will spend NIS 35 million upgrading the current prayer platform at Robinson’s Arch and it will be made a “respectable” prayer space that is accessible and visible to visitors to the Western Wall plaza complex.

The pluralist prayer section will also be accessible from the main entrance to the Western Wall plaza, another key demand of WOW, and WOW will be able to conduct women only prayers at the site, which will come under the control of the director of the Prime Minister’s Office.

It is possible that the new agreement will be voted on by the cabinet at its weekly meeting this Sunday.


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