Kotel Egalitarian Prayer Plan Set in Motion by Dramatic Western Wall Compromise

Sharansky Promises 'One Western Wall for One Jewish People'

Kotel Drama: Natan Sharansky came up with the proposal to split the Western Wall into Orthodox and egalitarian prayer sections. He needed some help to get it across the finish line.
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Kotel Drama: Natan Sharansky came up with the proposal to split the Western Wall into Orthodox and egalitarian prayer sections. He needed some help to get it across the finish line.

By Nathan Guttman and Jane Eisner

Published April 10, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
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The biggest compromise in accepting Sharansky’s outline was made by Women of the Wall, who argue that they should be allowed to wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah in the women’s section at the Wall. Under this plan, such prayer would be allowed only in the egalitarian section. But Anat Hoffman, the group’s leader, is supporting the Sharansky plan.

“It’s not everything we were hoping for, but we will compromise. You don’t always have to be right, you have to be smart, and compromise is a sign of maturity and understanding what’s at stake here,” Hoffman told the Forward.

Reform and Conservative activists raised concerns over the short-term situation at the Wall. Even if Sharansky’s plan is adopted, implementation is expected to take at least two years and perhaps much longer, and leaders of the non-Orthodox denominations are seeking assurances that in the interim, women will not be subjected to arrests while praying at the Wall.

Other significant obstacles also put in question the plan’s feasibility.

It now needs the approval of the Israeli government, and although the new coalition in Israel excludes members of the ultra-Orthodox parties, Netanyahu will need a great deal of political will to push the plan through the Cabinet and the Knesset.

American Orthodox leaders have chosen to keep a low profile on the issue. Agudath Israel announced that it will defer to its “highest religious authorities in Israel,” which in the past rejected giving Reform and Conservative streams a foothold in the holy places.

The Orthodox Union decided not to oppose the plan and chose to focus on the benefits of ending the dispute. Rabbi Steven Weil, the group’s executive vice president, listed the many threats facing Israel and the Jewish people, and expressed his hope that “Jews across the world can focus on these issues and not expend our energies on intra-Jewish hostility and rancor.”

Beyond political barriers, the Sharansky plan faces other obstacles: Expanding the Kotel plaza toward Robinson’s Arch will require building within an archaeological site, a process that could require lengthy excavation work; it could also run into geopolitical sensitivities, since expanding the plaza will involve changes to the MugHrabi Bridge leading to the Temple Mount.


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