Natan Sharansky’s proposal to reduce tensions at the Western Wall has lost support from both traditional supporters and opponents of egalitarian prayer at the holy site.
When Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, made the plan public a few weeks ago, it received at least tacit approval from a range of activists, including the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz.
The plan would expand the egalitarian section of the Western Wall Plaza – called Robinson’s Arch – and create a unified entrance to the Wall’s traditional and egalitarian sections. It was meant as a compromise between haredi Orthodox leaders who wanted to maintain exclusive control of the Western Wall, and religious pluralism activists who wanted the site opened to egalitarian prayer.
But now, prominent figures on both sides of the issue have withdrawn their endorsements of the plan.
Rabinowitz’s office last week released a statement saying that American “haredi and Orthodox communities expressed a decisive stand against any compromise.”
Meanwhile, Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a women’s prayer group that meets every month at the Western Wall’s women’s section, on Monday called the plan “not relevant to our needs.”
Controversy surrounding Women of the Wall was, in large part, the reason why Sharansky formulated the compromise. Members of Women of the Wall have been arrested or detained nearly every month for wearing prayer shawls at the Wall – a practice that violates Israeli law, requiring respect for “local custom” at the site. Protests over the arrests from Jewish communities outside Israel led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ask Sharansky to formulate a compromise.
In a court decision last week, though, a judge ruled that Women of the Wall’s activities did not, in fact, contravene the law.