Woman raises Torah scroll 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
The Women of the Wall activist group reacted with “cautious optimism” to plans
for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall being developed and
brokered by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.
Sharansky told The
Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night that a section for egalitarian prayer must be
established at the holy site.
The chairman’s plan, devised in cooperation
with MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli
Ben-Dahan, among others, involves the expansion of the current Western Wall
Plaza to comprise an area from the northern end of the Western Wall site down to
the southern end of the wall by Robinson’s Arch.
The plan calls for the
current prayer area at Robinson’s Arch, which was designated for non-Orthodox
prayer in 2003 by the Supreme Court, to be elevated to the same level as the
current plaza area, and for the area running along the Western Wall to be
divided into three equal parts – male, female, and egalitarian – with one
entrance to the entire complex set to be created.
However, Ben-Dahan told
the Post on Wednesday that the Mughrabi Bridge, an earthen ramp and wooden
bridge leading up to the Temple Mount that constitutes a solid barrier between
the current plaza and the Robinson’s Arch area, will remain in
This may not satisfy the demands of the Women of the Wall group,
which has stated that it would find any solution in which the group be forced to
pray separately from the main plaza unacceptable.
Women of the Wall said
in a statement to the press on Wednesday that although it had not been presented
with the full plan, it was “hopeful at the possibility of a major advancement in
pluralism at the Western Wall.”
The group emphasized, however, that
arrests and detainments of women at the site during teh organization’s monthly
prayer services should be halted immediately, given that a permanent solution
would take time to be completed.
“There is no solution that will unify
the Jewish people so long as women can be arrested for wearing prayer shawls and
reading from the Torah at the Western Wall, a public holy site in Israel,” it
A 2003 Supreme Court ruling prohibits religious ceremonies “not
according to local custom” or those that “may hurt the feelings of the
worshipers” at holy sites, including the Western Wall.
interpret this as meaning anything that deviates from Orthodox
Jerusalem District Police Cmdr. Yosi Perienti said on Tuesday,
however, that at the next Women of the Wall prayer service, which was set to
take place on Thursday morning, the police intend to enforce the
In a letter to senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni,
who filed a complaint to the police for failing to arrest women who wore
“male-style” tallitot – large, black-and-white prayer shawls distinguished from
“female-style” tallitot that are smaller, often more colorful and worn around
the neck – at the site last month, Perienti assured the haredi lawmaker that the
restrictions will be enforced.
“The police will not allow the law to be
violated by the Women of the Wall,” the commander wrote.
He sent a copy
of the letter to the organization as well, stating, “In accordance with the
directives of the Justice Ministry, you are not permitted to pray in accordance
with your customs at the Western Wall Plaza except at the site designated for
this purpose,” referring to the Robinson’s Arch area.
“As long as the
current arrangements are not changed, you are obligated to act in accordance
with the ruling of the court,” he wrote.
In response to the plan being
drawn up by Sharansky, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who has vigorously
opposed the practices of the religious rights group, said on Wednesday that
although he very much wished that the customs practiced at the site “would not
deviate from Jewish law,” he would not oppose the proposed solution “for the
sake of unity and out of a desire to distance the Western Wall from all argument
Rabinowitz has close ties to the haredi rabbinical
leadership and it is understood that he consulted with senior rabbis before
agreeing to Sharansky’s proposals.
The almost total absence of public
opposition from the haredi political and spiritual leadership indicates,
therefore, that the proposal as it stands is acceptable to the upper echelons of
the ultra- Orthodox community.