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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Past attempts to renovate the bridge led to tension with the Muslim Waqf, which controls Islam’s holy sites in Jerusalem. It is also not yet clear whether current Israeli law allows for a religious area, such as the proposed egalitarian section, to be governed by non-Orthodox denominations.

Yet the biggest challenge could be that which is facing the Reform movement. The group, which had sided in the past with Women of the Wall, decided to go forward with Sharansky’s ideas, tilting the balance in favor of adopting the plan.

“We want a resolution that is for the good of all,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. This compromise reflects, to a great extent, an understanding that the battle over women’s prayer at the Wall is only one aspect of the Reform struggle to establish itself in Israel, and not the one Israelis necessarily view as most important. “There are issues that are deeply experienced here but not so in Israel,” Jacobs said, noting that the call for civil marriage is strongly supported by Israelis but “the Kotel not necessarily.”

Putting the Western Wall issue to rest will allow the Reform movement to focus on its other agenda items in Israel, which include equal funding for non-Orthodox rabbis and religious institutions, marriage equality and ending institutionalized preference for Orthodox Judaism. “We hope that we can go from here to the other issues,” Jacobs said.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com.

Contact Jane Eisner at eisner@forward.com.


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