Amid Gender Separation Debate, Citizenship Ceremonies Moved From Kotel

By Yair Ettinger and Nir Hasson (Haaretz)

Published October 13, 2009.
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The Jewish Agency will stop holding citizenship ceremonies for new immigrants at the Western Wall plaza, in keeping with a demand by the rabbi responsible for the site.

Tomorrow, a ceremony scheduled to be held at the plaza will be held instead on the roof of a nearby yeshiva overlooking the Western Wall.

Earlier, Haaretz reported that rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, had demanded gender separation at agency ceremonies.

During the ceremonies, the immigrants receive their Israeli IDs, after their first day in Israel.

The report cited disagreements between Rabinovitch and Paula Edelstein, head of the immigration and absorption committee at the agency, who demanded the ceremonies continue without segregation.

However, in a letter to Haaretz, a spokesman for Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky said Edelstein should not be taken to represent the entire agency.

Sharansky and the agency apparently have accepted the Rabinovitch’s demands to stop the ceremonies, agreeing they were civic, not religious.

Under the compromise, the ceremonies will be held on the roof of the Esh Hatorah yeshiva, or by Robinson’s Arch, where Reform Jews have been allowed to hold mixed-gender prayer sessions.

Rabinovitch told Haaretz the request to stop holding the ceremonies at the wall had nothing to do with segregation.

“This is a purely administrative question about the character of the Western Wall. The Wall is not a banquet hall,” he said.

When asked whether official ceremonies held at the Wall, including the annual IDF memorial ceremony, would be canceled, officials at the heritage foundation said, “The official state ceremonies will go on. It just goes to show the Wall is not dominated by the ultra-Orthodox.”






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