New Government Plan Likely to Inflame Kotel Battle

Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit’s expected proposal counters the Jewish Agency chairman’s plan and effectively snubs a Jerusalem court ruling which permitted the Women of the Wall to pray according to their custom in the existing women’s prayer section. (Haaretz)

Government proposed Kotel solution

According to Haaretz, “The new plan, to be presented by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit, departs from Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky’s proposal to set up a new space for egalitarian prayer services at the Western Wall, which won broad support from Jewish communities in Israel and the United States. It also effectively snubs a ruling from Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Sobel, which permitted the Women of the Wall to pray.”

This from The Jerusalem Post: “The Ministry, in coordination with the Prime Minister’s Office and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky government agencies, has constructed a large platform of approximately 450 square meters at the Robinson’s Arch area to serve as the site for non-Orthodox prayer, but stressed it was intended as “a temporary solution to enable prayer services during the upcoming Jewish holiday season.”

In a statement to the press, the Ministry said that the site, to be called “Ezrat Yisrael,” will be open free of charge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can accomodate up to 450 worshipers. Prayer books, Torah scrolls and prayer shawls will also be made available.”

And this, from Women of the Wall: “Today Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennet announced his support for the Mendelblit plan, the Prime Minister’s Office committee charged with the task of solving the problem of inequality at the Western Wall.

The committee is supporting a solution in which a wooden balcony has been built on scaffolding in the middle of Robinson’s Arch, an area separated by a wall and out of view from the Western Wall. The plan will effectively exile women and all Jews who pray in a way that is not ultra-Orthodox tradition to Robinson’s Arch and away from the area of the Western Wall where Jews have prayed for generations.

If this plan is accepted, the government will be excluding over 50% of Jewish population to the “back of the bus”.

Women of the Wall rejects the Mendelblit plan which dangerously circumvents the pluralist Sobel Disctrict Court decision. We are at a crossroads for religious freedom and freedom of expression in Israel. Today this effects Women of the Wall but tomorrow it will effect every Israeli and Jew around the world. What has been proven today is that the bullies were victorious – with their assault, spitting and cursing at women. Mendelblit and Bennet have given in to the threats and violence of the haredi extremist minority in Israel and this is a dangerous precedent for our democracy.

The proposed plan, the wooden stage in the center of the archaeological visitor’s center, is concerning only mixed prayer, and therefore does not provide a solution for Women of the Wall, a mixed women’s prayer sectionThe plan leaves control over the entire area in the hands of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, an organization run by a vast majority ultra-Orthodox men. [emphasis added] The stage is in no way equal topographically or geographically to the original plaza, not does it come close to the Wall itself, as it stands to the back of the Robinson’s Arch area. This plan is the very definition of separate, and not nearly close to equal, it provides an out of sight-out of mind solution silencing women at the Western Wall.”

And this, from Sharansky, “Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky today (August 25th) congratulated Minister of Diaspora Affairs Mr. Naftali Bennett for his perseverance and efficient implementation in constructing a temporary prayer plaza in anticipation of the approaching Jewish New Year.

“This temporary prayer plaza is a gesture of goodwill on behalf of Minister Bennett towards Judaism’s religious streams.

It is my hope that this step can be helpful in creating an atmosphere of good will and trust in the ongoing dialogue between the Government of Israel, Judaism’s religious streams, and The Jewish Agency for Israel – who are working together to find a permanent prayer arrangement at the Kotel.”

And lastly, Shmuel Rosner in the Jewish Journal: “The bottom line will be this: the Kotel wars are going to continue. WOW will keep coming back to the “real” plaza, and the court will be asked (possibly by the government too) to reexamine the situation. The campaign that’s been going on in the last couple of weeks to get a hundred American rabbis to talk about the Western Wall in their High Holyday sermons is going to succeed. And the sermons – well, most of them – aren’t likely to be favorable to the plan.”