Contentious mixed gender prayer service in Western Wall plaza planned

Masorti Movement demanding egalitarian section at central Western Wall plaza in light of failure to implement Western Wall agreement.

Jews gather to pray at the Western Wall during Succot (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Jews gather to pray at the Western Wall during Succot
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
The Reform and Masorti (Conservative) Movements announced on Wednesday that they would hold a mixed-gender prayer service in the upper plaza of the Western Wall on Thursday.
Members of the Women of the Wall prayer rights group will also be participating in the prayer service, although WoW as an organization will not be formally praying in the egalitarian service since the organization is not a mixed prayer group. A representative of WoW said that the event has its full backing.
The afternoon prayer service will take place in the area of the Western Wall Plaza behind the separate men and women’s sections of the site adjacent to the wall itself.
The prayer service is likely to generate intense opposition from the haredi leadership and community, as well as elements in the national-religious community, which fiercely oppose mixed-gender prayer at the Western Wall and state recognition of the progressive Jewish denominations.
The announcement follows a gender-separate prayer service held on Tuesday by Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar at the pluralist Robinson’s Arch prayer section area at the southern end of the Western Wall.
The Masorti movement was strongly critical of Amar for the visit.
According to an attorney for the Reform Movement in Israel, the upper plaza in the main Western Wall complex is a public space and can legitimately be used for prayer.
Women of the Wall have on several occasions been required to pray in the upper plaza, notably when masses of haredi school girls were bused to the site and filled up the women’s prayer section to prevent the prayer rights group from praying there.
Director of the Masorti Movement in Israel Yizhar Hess deplored Amar’s actions, and said the movement was now demanding the division of the current Western Wall plaza into three sections – instead of the current two for men and women – so as to include a prayer space for pluralist prayer.
“Since the Government of Israel has refused to implement the compromise agreement for the Western Wall, we are returning to the public, state plaza to demand what belong to all of us: the Western Wall,” said Hess. “We are demanding a third, egalitarian section at the Western Wall itself. This place is not under haredi ownership, it is a national, holy site that belongs to the entire Jewish people.”
Director of the Reform Movement in Israel Rabbi Gilad Kariv said that his movement believed that “there is more than one way to be Jewish,” and that the Western Wall is the home of all Jews regardless of their religious affiliation.
“Our prayer service indicates to the government of Israel that the sand-timer for implementing the Western Wall plan [for an upgraded pluralist prayer space] is running down,” said Kariv, adding that it was being staged in response to Amar’s “provocation.”