A man and woman pray at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall.
(photo credit: DAVID SHECHTER FOR THE JEWISH AGENCY FOR ISRAEL)
A major step toward renovating the egalitarian prayer section of the Western Wall was taken Monday night, with the Knesset approving the transfer of authority over infrastructure changes to holy sites to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev.
The law requires renovations to holy sites to receive authorization from a special ministerial committee to be chaired by the culture and sports minister, along with two other ministers.
Regev however refused to approve the renovations, saying she fundamentally disagreed with mixed-gender prayer at the Western Wall, despite having supported it in the past.
In response, Netanyahu advanced a regulation to transfer authority over such renovations to the prime minister, a step approved on Monday.
The other two members of the committee are Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who has said he will back the renovations, and Religious Services Minister David Azoulay who will oppose.
The plans are certain to be approved by the committee given that Netanyahu and Steinitz will vote in favor.
The Jerusalem Post has also learned that another apparent obstacle to the plans was quietly circumvented earlier this year, when the Jerusalem Municipal Authority rejected claims that the renovations do not have the requisite permits from the municipality.
On April 26, right-wing council member Arieh King submitted a motion to the agenda in the council contesting that permits for the construction had not been obtained.
The motion was however rejected, with the legal adviser to the Jerusalem Municipal Authority arguing that the planned work is being carried out by the Antiquities Authority and therefore does not require building permits.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, an ardent opponent of the renovations and of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, told the Post this week that blocking building permits for the upgrade was to be another tool in stifling the project. It would now appear that this particular avenue for opposition has been closed.
The planned renovations are relatively modest, and consist mainly of extending the current prayer platform to reach the actual stones of the Western Wall on one level, as opposed to the current situation where a small, lower platform is the only place where the egalitarian section touches the wall.
Jerusalem Municipal Council member and leader of the Yerushalmim party Fleur Hassan- Nahoum welcomed the municipality’s stance and said it was important all Jews feel welcome at the holy site.
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