Western Wall egalitarian prayer section proposed, female worshippers arrested

The Western Wall. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

(JNS.org) At the Western Wall, a new plan has emerged for the creation of an egalitarian prayer section in a bid to end a longtime dispute over prayer access among Jewish sects.

The Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, has been the center of a decades-old dispute between the Orthodox, who control the site, and Jews seeking egalitarian practices there, mainly Conservative and Reform Jews from the United States. In recent months, the dispute reached new heights when members of a Jewish group called “Women of the Wall” were arrested for praying with religious garments only traditionally worn by men under Orthodox practices.

More arrests came on Thursday during Women of the Wall’s monthly Rosh Hodesh service marking the start of the Jewish month. Five women were detained for defying the Western Wall’s ban on women wearing prayer shawls and reading from the Torah, and several ultra-Orthodox worshippers insulted the women, Israel Hayom reported.

Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive for the Jewish Agency for Israel, was tasked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a solution to the issue.

Under Sharansky’s proposal, a new area will be created at Robinson’s Arch, which is currently an archeological site south of the Western Wall Plaza. This new area would allow egalitarian prayer as well as be expanded and connected to the existing Orthodox-supervised men and women’s prayer sites. The new site would be open 24 hours a day for prayers, events and mass ceremonies.

“I presented it to the government ministers, to the leaders of the Jewish movements in the U.S., to the Western Wall rabbi, and each of them have their own reservations but they all understand that the situation in which the Western Wall is a place of conflict and dispute must end and that it must be rebuilt as a uniting place,” Sharansky told Yedioth Ahronoth.

The proposal will be submitted to Netanyahu for his consideration.

Posted on April 10, 2013 .