Robinson's Arch 370.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett has issued a call to
Reform and Conservative Jews to visit the Western Wall during the High Holy Days
and pray at the newly upgraded site for non- Orthodox services.
Sunday, Bennett announced that the Robinson’s Arch area, just south of the main
Western Wall Plaza, had undergone a substantial upgrade. The new prayer platform
there covers approximately 450 square meters and can accommodate approximately
450 worshippers. Torah scrolls, prayer books and prayer shawls will be made
available at the site, which will be accessible seven days a week, 24 hours a
The Robinson’s Arch site was designated a prayer area for
non-Orthodox services in 1998, and a small prayer platform was constructed there
Writing on his Facebook page Sunday night, Bennett said the
Western Wall belonged to all Jews but noted that many who visit the site do not
feel comfortable there. He stated explicitly that he was not referring to the
Women of the Wall.
“In recent years, a lot of tension has been created
around the Western Wall. A large part of the public – and I am specifically not
referring to the ‘Women of the Wall’ but to the Jewish people as a whole – feels
that it is difficult to come to the Western Wall. That they don’t connect,” the
“There are many Jewish denominations in the world, and
the majority of the Jewish people in the Diaspora are not Orthodox,” he
continued. “As the Minister for Diaspora Affairs I believe the Western Wall
belongs to all the Jews in the world, not to one denomination or the
Bennett said that despite criticism by Women of the Wall (WoW)
that the Robinson’s Arch area was not on an equal footing with the rest of the
plaza, the upgraded site would “enable unity and peace at the Western Wall.” He
concluded by inviting the public to visit the site during Rosh
Meanwhile, approximately 20 women, including the heads of WoW,
participated in a 24-hour sit-in at the Western Wall that ended Monday
afternoon. It was held in protest against the Robinson’s Arch
The group believes he renovated site represents the basis for
what a committee headed by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit will recommend
as a permanent solution for all non-Orthodox prayer at the Western
A WoW spokeswoman said the group prayed, studied and sang during
the vigil, which actually ended a couple of hours early owing to a large prayer
service that was scheduled to take place at the Kotel that evening.
group conducted prayer services in the women’s section at the Wall, and for
morning prayers some donned prayer shawls and tefillin. The shofar was blown at
the end of the service.
Prior to April, an Israeli law pertaining to holy
sites, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in 2003 and a Justice Ministry
directive from 2005, prohibited non- Orthodox practices at the Western Wall.
Consequently, members of WoW prayer groups frequently have been arrested for
wearing prayer shawls and tefillin, and for conducting similar practices that
Orthodox Judaism reserves for men.
But an April ruling by Jerusalem
District Court Judge Moshe Sobel effectively reinterpreted the law and thereby
allowed women to pray according to their own customs.
The WoW spokeswoman
told The Jerusalem Post
that the group was concerned that with the Robinson’s
Arch area upgrade, Bennett, who also serves as minister for religious services,
could issue regulations creating a new legal reality that once again prevents
the group from praying at the site according to its traditions.
called again on Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni to prevent such an eventuality.