Natan Sharansky, chair of the Executive of The Jewish Agency, and representative of the Prime Minister who is seeking a compromise for the current challenges of prayer at the Kotel has spoken. Maybe. Perhaps. On the record, apparently not.
For while Sharansky did make a presentation in New York yesterday and did speak with both The New York Times and The Jewish Week, The Jewish Agency continues to decline to make any public statement (claiming “Sharansky individually, and not as chair of The Agency has been tasked with this responsibility”). Further, the organization’s Director General tells eJP, “This is a very complicated political process with a wide range of stakeholders and numerous sensitivities…”
Additionally, The Jewish Agency advises Sharansky will not present his proposals to the Prime Minister until he returns from a U.S. trip, yet The Times of Israel is reporting, “The proposal has reportedly been approved in principle by the government.”
At the core of Sharansky’s presumed proposal, “separate is equal.”
According to The Jewish Week, “The key to his plan, he explained, is “too see all of the Western Wall as one.” The proposal calls for renovating the southwest portion of the Wall (Robinson’s Arch), which had been the site of archaeological excavations since soon after the 1967 Six-Day War, and elevate it to equal prominence to the existing area where prayers are now held.
The renovation would, in effect, double the area of the Wall dedicated to prayer; one half, now the site of religious services, would remain as is, and continue to be used for traditional prayer. The other half, continuing south (or, facing the Wall, to the right), would be the same length and set aside for egalitarian prayer.”
In search of a compromise, Sharansky has spent many months meeting with leaders of the various streams and Members of Knesset, yet not only is his plan the same that Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren floated prior to the elections (one presumes with the Prime Minister’s blessing), and the one that was predicted from day one, but the supposed outcome is what Sharansky himself described to various stream leaders months ago.
While most media reports indicate cautious acceptance by many North American Jewish leaders along with support by Women of the Wall’s (WoW) Anat Hoffman, acceptance – even among the WoW community that has been at the forefront of this public disagreement – is far from assured. Significant conversation has taken place in many quarters, including on facebook over the past 72 hours, raising important issues: one being that while Sharansky has addressed some concerns of those seeking an egalitarian solution, he totally blew off all women, including Orthodox, seeking to pray at the Kotel in a women’s only environment, reading Torah and wearing Tallitot.
Meanwhile, here in Israel, tomorrow morning eyes will be on the Kotel for Rosh Chodesh prayers where one cannot help but wonder how the latest chapter of feminist worshippers vs the Israeli police will play out: will women recite kaddish and will they be arrested for doing so? Will any women be arrested for wearing Tallitot? Will Members of Knesset again be present? And, regardless of what transpires tomorrow, what will happen on the ground next month and the month after and the month after that while the proposals get discussed, but not implemented. In fact, not one person eJP has spoken with (other than Jewish Agency staff) expects the government to actually follow-through and implement Sharansky’s recommendations.
As to the specifics, we’ll just have to wait for official word. But, eJP hears LGBT groups, Ethiopian Jews – and separately the Falash Mura and even non-smokers, among many others, are mobilizing and demanding Sharansky consider their plight too. Maybe lobbying for the Israeli public can become a new function for The Agency.
update: eJP understands Sharansky is currently in transit and will arrive in Israel this evening. Perhaps he cut his U.S. trip short to be at the Kotel tomorrow morning for Rosh Chodesh? In any case, tomorrow should be interesting.