The Prime Minister’s Office has decided that the insertion of a mehitza (partition used to separate men and women) into the egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall (Ezrat Yisrael) is not permitted.
The decision was sent by officials in the Prime Minister’s Office to Herzl Ben Ari, CEO of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The letter stated that “the insertion of mechitza into the egalitarian prayer plaza must be prevented at the entrance to the site.”
The official quoted a letter issued by the Justice Ministry in 2020 and stated that “according to the position of the Ministry of Justice, the ushers [at the Wall] do not have the authority to use force in order to prevent the insertion of the mechitza”, but that “as much as it is necessary to use force, the Israel Police should be involved in order to handle the issue.”
Violence at the egalitarian section
A number of violent incidents occurred at Ezrat Yisrael in the past few months: A few weeks ago, a group of young haredim were violent towards a group of progressive American Jews. They tore the pages of a siddur and blew their nose on a torn page.
In addition, they called a bar mitzvah boy from the US a Nazi. Last year, a group of religious Zionist activists prayed at the egalitarian prayer section with partitions, in a non-egalitarian way, taking up the space that was meant for liberal prayer services.
The Masorti movement welcomed the decision. “We see this as an important move and another step towards securing the Western Wall as a common space and a home for all the people of Israel, in all of their shades and streams.”
Its spokesperson added that: “We demand from the Israel Police to take care of and protect the rights of worshipers at the egalitarian section at the Kotel (Western Wall) to enjoy a respectful prayer space and to prevent any disruption, incitement or sabotage attempts as occurred in recent months. The Kotel belongs to all of us.”
The Masorti movement
The Masorti movement is in charge of the operation of the egalitarian prayer section at the Wall, providing torah scrolls and prayer books to those who wish to pray at the plaza.
“The removal of the partitions from Ezrat Yisrael is a necessary step in response to the violent struggle waged by ultra-Orthodox groups against Jews who came to pray at the Western Wall plaza… We hope that it will now become clear to everyone as well.”
“This is only one step among many and it is long overdue,” the executive director of the Reform Movement, Anna Kislanski said.
“We call on the prime minister to act in order to make the egalitarian section at the Kotel a public and respectable place that allows all Jewish women from Israel and the Diaspora to pray in their own way.”
“From the research we have carried out, it is clear that the Israeli public is interested in having an agreement that will allow joint prayer at the southern section of the Kotel,” said Daniel Goldman, the founder of the Institute for Jewish and Zionist Research.
Goldman said that “the decision prohibiting the introduction of partitions into the square is correct and desirable. Jewish faith and identity are diverse and multifaceted, and it would be wrong to allow the parties, from any side, to dictate how the prayer will take place at the Kotel and especially at the southern plaza, designated according to the Western Wall’s outline for use by those who believe in egalitarian prayer.
It is “a necessary step in response to the violent struggle waged by ultra-Orthodox groups against Jews who came to pray at the Kotel,” Neemanei, of the Torah Ve’Avodah movement, said. “To begin with, it was appropriate to let each person pray in his own way and to respect each other everywhere,” they added.
“Contrary to Halacha, contrary to tradition and even contrary to the law, Lapid once again insults the holy of holies of Israel.”Noam Chairman Avi Maoz
Maoz added that “once again, the face of [Prime Minister Yair] Lapid and those who made him ‘king’ has been revealed, [promoting] the desecration of the sanctity of the Kotel, as part of the secularization of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel.” Maoz claimed that the Reform movement has already “revealed that the Kotel is just another means in its fight to change the Jewish identity of the country. Lapid, and [Finance Minister Avigdor] Liberman are representatives who are trying to actualize the vision of the Reform movement. We will soon fix this.”
“The Jewish Kotel does not belong to Reform [Jews], but to all the people of Israel; women and men, religious and secular, who all respect the Kotel - unlike the Reform [Jews].” He added that “These upcoming elections are between those who want a Jewish identity and those who want a state for all its citizens, and the destruction of Jewish tradition. Lapid’s scandalous decision is an example of what may occur, God forbid, if he is elected as prime minister.”
The Noam party has published an ad on social media calling for its supporters to pray at Ezrat Yisrael on Tuesday evening. “As a result of the illegal triumphs of Yair Lapid to forbid prayer according to the halacha in the Western plaza of the Kotel,” the ad stated. The ad also emphasized that the prayer service will take place with a mechitza, while men and women will pray on separate sides of the partition.