PM supports Sharansky’s Western Wall plans

Netanyahu tells Jewish Agency chairman to continue pursuing proposal of egalitarian section at the Western Wall.

Robinson's Arch 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Robinson's Arch 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has approved plans being drawn up by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.
The two discussed the issue while in London where they attended the funeral of former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Netanyahu has told Sharansky to meet with outgoing cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser and National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror to outline the steps needed to actualize the plan and prepare a timeline for its implementation.
The presence of Amidror may indicate concern over Muslim reaction to any infrastructure changes at the site – which includes the Mugrabi Bridge to the Temple Mount – which usually evoke strong opposition from the Islamic world.
Sharansky’s plan will allow for the construction of an additional section of the Western Wall Plaza at the southern end of the Kotel “equal in size and height as the northern prayer area,” for egalitarian prayer and accessible as part of one unified Western Wall complex with a single entrance.
Separately, the Women of the Wall activist group, which has been campaigning against current restrictions at the site, announced on Tuesday that the Israel Police has appealed a decision by Jerusalem District Court Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly made early this month, in which she dismissed charges of disturbing public order against five women who had participated in a Women of the Wall prayer service.
The women had donned prayer shawls at the Kotel, which is prohibited by law, but the judge ruled that “there is no basis for the arrest” and that “it was not Women of the Wall who initiated the provocation.”
The police are requesting that the five women be given restraining orders banning them from the Western Wall for the next three months, or alternatively, to have the Women of the Wall monthly prayer services relocated to the Robinson’s Arch area for the entire prayer service.
The Regulations for the Protection of Holy Places to the Jews of 1981 forbid performing religious ceremonies “not according to local custom” or which “may hurt the feelings of the worshipers” at the site.
Local custom is interpreted as being Orthodox practice, in which women do not wear tallitot, or prayer shawls.
A 2003 Supreme Court ruling upheld these regulations and their interpretation, while at the same time stipulating that a section of the Western Wall – at the Robinson’s Arch area – be designated as a place for non- Orthodox prayer and that the government must ensure that the site is upgraded to be an appropriate place of prayer.
The Women of the Wall group argues that since the current Robinson’s Arch prayer area is not accessible around the clock, requires an entrance fee and does not have amenities such as prayer books, Torah scrolls, chairs and other items, it does not comply with the Supreme Court ruling.
In response to the appeal, which will be heard on Wednesday, Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman backed the original District Court ruling stating that women’s prayer does not constitute a disturbance of the peace.
“Quite the opposite. Women’s prayer promotes peace, unity, community and spirit for the Jewish people. How could it be a criminal, punishable offense?” asked Hoffman in a statement to the press.