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A plan put forward by a haredi deputy minister would completely segregate the main entry-point to the Western Wall, in the latest Jewish controversy over the division of sexes at the Jerusalem holy site, officials said Thursday.
The proposal presented by Deputy Transportation Minister Shmuel Halpert of the United Torah Judaism Party, which is currently being studied by the rabbi of the Western Wall and Jerusalem police, would see the central entry-way to both the Western Wall and the Western Wall plaza entirely separated by sex.
At present, signs reading men and women appear at the main security check at the entrance to the Jerusalem holy site, but the directives are not rigorously enforced.
"I am acting on behalf of thousands of haredim who frequent the site daily who complain of the physical interaction with women," Halpert said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Both the haredi Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch and Jerusalem police said Thursday that such a plan was "under review."
Non-orthodox Jewish groups were up in arms over the latest plan, which came a month before general elections, with the Reform Movement in Israel studying legal action to fight the move.
"We see the definition of religiosity for these people is how far apart we can be from women," said Anat Hoffman, the head of the Reform Movement in Israel.
The proposal comes less than two years after a controversial construction project initiated by the Rabbi at the Western Wall expanded and heightened the separation between men and women at the Jerusalem holy site.
The contentious project extended the prayer area by about 600 square meters, at the expense of the plaza, which is used for various private and public ceremonies, and has heightened the barrier which closes off the prayer area in the wall's plaza, making it virtually impossible to look at the wall from the plaza.
In keeping with Orthodox tradition, men and women are separated at the prayer area, while in the plaza - often used for IDF and state ceremonies as well as by non-Orthodox groups - the genders intermingle freely.
The work was undertaken even as Israel's Religious Affairs Ministry was dismantled by the government, with no one governmental ministry supervising, or approving, the goings-on at the site.
After launching a short-lived public protest against the work, Israel's beleaguered Masorti (Conservative) Movement failed to stop the construction project, while the Reform Movement in Israel stayed out of that dispute entirely.
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