Segregation barriers expanded at Kotel

Divisions between men and women will extend into plaza during holiday season.

western wall 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
western wall 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A year after a controversial construction project at the Western Wall expanded and heightened the separation between men and women at the Jerusalem holy site, several additional barriers dividing the sexes have been erected in the Western Wall plaza. In keeping with Orthodox tradition, men and women are segregated at the prayer area, while in the plaza, often used for IDF and state ceremonies as well as by non-Orthodox groups, the genders intermingle freely. But earlier this month several barriers - with signs reading "men" and "women" in Hebrew on each side - were erected in the plaza area. The Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch said Sunday that the new barriers were a "temporary measure" for the holidays due to construction work on the side of the Western Wall allocated for women's prayer which has resulted in overcrowding on the women's section. He added that the new barriers would be taken down after the week-long Succot holiday, which begins Monday night. But non-orthodox groups, concerned over the precedent of interim moves becoming permanent at the Jerusalem holy site, and smarting over their failure to stop the expansion of the segregated area last year, said Sunday they would work to ensure the move was only a temporary one, taking legal action if necessary. "Tragically the [Western] Wall is becoming a place of separation instead of unity," said Anat Hoffman head of the Reform Movement in Israel. "The separation of sexes is forced on the majority of the Jews of the world who are non-orthodox, and the place is becoming more and more like the quintessential haredi discotheque," she added. The new division at the Western Wall plaza comes at the heels of last year's contentious construction project initiated by the Western Wall Rabbi who oversaw the expansion and heightening of the separation between men and women at the Jerusalem holy site. Last year's project extended the prayer area by about 600 square meters, at the expense of the plaza, and has heightened the barrier which closes off the prayer area, making it virtually impossible to look at the Wall from the plaza. The work was undertaken even as Israel's notorious Religious Affairs Ministry was dismantled by the government, with not a single governmental ministry supervising or approving the events at the site. After launching a short-lived public protest against the work last year, Israel's beleaguered Masorti (Conservative) Movement failed to stop the construction project, while the Reform Movement in Israel stayed on the sidelines of the dispute as well. It was not immediately clear Sunday whether the new barriers constructed at the site - whether interim of permanent - were built with city permits.