After years of inaction and neglect, following a government ruling, a new wooden floor has been laid at the Western Wall's egalitarian prayer platform.
The prayer platform’s surface at the southern end of the Wall was replaced last week because the previous wooden floor, built in 2013 when Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was the Diaspora Affairs Minister, was damaged and subsequently deemed unsafe.
The repairs were funded by the Prime Minister’s Office and cost NIS 130,000 allocated by the Finance Ministry and have been overseen by a safety consultant.
In answer to a petition filed against the government by the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements and the Women of the Wall organization, the state must report to the High Court of Justice by October 31 to show how it is handling the dispute over prayer rights at the Wall. The groups have demanded that the government implement the 2016 Western Wall resolution which was indefinitely suspended in 2017.
The Western Wall agreement would have vastly upgraded the current egalitarian section and made it a state-recognized holy site, as well as giving representatives of the non-Orthodox movements a say in the site’s governing body.
The petition argues, in part, that the current egalitarian section is not fit to serve as a place of prayer and demands that the government either upgrade it or allocate the non-Orthodox movements prayer space in the central Western Wall plaza.
Senior government officials have indicated that the cabinet will soon address the 2016 agreement, probably after the passage of the budget in November.
The recent repairs have not included a small prayer platform abutting the stones of the Western Wall within the egalitarian prayer section that was damaged and is not accessible to worshippers after in 2018, a large stone fell out of the wall causing damage.
The main egalitarian prayer platform is set back from the Western Wall stones and they are not accessible from there.
Repairs to the platform have been halted because the Jerusalem Municipality has issued an administrative stop-work order following appeals by opponents of non-Orthodox prayer at the site.
“The light renovation that was carried out this week is timely, but has nothing to do with the Western Wall agreement,” said Deputy Chairman of the World Zionist Organization, Yizhar Hess, a former director of the Masorti Movement in Israel.
“The Company for the Development of the Jewish Quarter, which carried out the repairs, did excellent work but no one should think that this slight renovation represents any kind of solution. We are waiting for the government to unfreeze the Western Wall agreement, and to do it forthwith.”
The hardline Orthodox organization, Liba, which has lobbied and campaigned against allowing non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall, condemned the repair work to the platform.
“This type of work proves that the goal of the Reform movements is to impost their faith on the Jewish character of the Western Wall and the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, all under the auspices and support of the Israeli government, which despite promises, also includes MKs from Yamina,” said Liba director Oren Hennig.