Women of Wall react to Sharansky proposal

Mughrabi Bridge to remain in place in Jewish Agency head’s plan; women's group hopeful of "major advancement of pluralism."

Woman raises Torah scroll 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
Woman raises Torah scroll 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
The Women of the Wall activist group reacted with “cautious optimism” to plans for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall being developed and brokered by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.
Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night that a section for egalitarian prayer must be established at the holy site.
The chairman’s plan, devised in cooperation with MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, among others, involves the expansion of the current Western Wall Plaza to comprise an area from the northern end of the Western Wall site down to the southern end of the wall by Robinson’s Arch.
The plan calls for the current prayer area at Robinson’s Arch, which was designated for non-Orthodox prayer in 2003 by the Supreme Court, to be elevated to the same level as the current plaza area, and for the area running along the Western Wall to be divided into three equal parts – male, female, and egalitarian – with one entrance to the entire complex set to be created.
However, Ben-Dahan told the Post on Wednesday that the Mughrabi Bridge, an earthen ramp and wooden bridge leading up to the Temple Mount that constitutes a solid barrier between the current plaza and the Robinson’s Arch area, will remain in place.
This may not satisfy the demands of the Women of the Wall group, which has stated that it would find any solution in which the group be forced to pray separately from the main plaza unacceptable.
Women of the Wall said in a statement to the press on Wednesday that although it had not been presented with the full plan, it was “hopeful at the possibility of a major advancement in pluralism at the Western Wall.”
The group emphasized, however, that arrests and detainments of women at the site during teh organization’s monthly prayer services should be halted immediately, given that a permanent solution would take time to be completed.
“There is no solution that will unify the Jewish people so long as women can be arrested for wearing prayer shawls and reading from the Torah at the Western Wall, a public holy site in Israel,” it said.
A 2003 Supreme Court ruling prohibits religious ceremonies “not according to local custom” or those that “may hurt the feelings of the worshipers” at holy sites, including the Western Wall.
The police interpret this as meaning anything that deviates from Orthodox norms.
Jerusalem District Police Cmdr. Yosi Perienti said on Tuesday, however, that at the next Women of the Wall prayer service, which was set to take place on Thursday morning, the police intend to enforce the restrictions.
In a letter to senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, who filed a complaint to the police for failing to arrest women who wore “male-style” tallitot – large, black-and-white prayer shawls distinguished from “female-style” tallitot that are smaller, often more colorful and worn around the neck – at the site last month, Perienti assured the haredi lawmaker that the restrictions will be enforced.
“The police will not allow the law to be violated by the Women of the Wall,” the commander wrote.
He sent a copy of the letter to the organization as well, stating, “In accordance with the directives of the Justice Ministry, you are not permitted to pray in accordance with your customs at the Western Wall Plaza except at the site designated for this purpose,” referring to the Robinson’s Arch area.
“As long as the current arrangements are not changed, you are obligated to act in accordance with the ruling of the court,” he wrote.
In response to the plan being drawn up by Sharansky, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who has vigorously opposed the practices of the religious rights group, said on Wednesday that although he very much wished that the customs practiced at the site “would not deviate from Jewish law,” he would not oppose the proposed solution “for the sake of unity and out of a desire to distance the Western Wall from all argument and dispute.”
Rabinowitz has close ties to the haredi rabbinical leadership and it is understood that he consulted with senior rabbis before agreeing to Sharansky’s proposals.
The almost total absence of public opposition from the haredi political and spiritual leadership indicates, therefore, that the proposal as it stands is acceptable to the upper echelons of the ultra- Orthodox community.