Women and Orthodox Waver Over Plan for Egalitarian Prayer at Western Wall

Kotel Compromise In Trouble as Support Frays on Both Sides

Women’s Wall: American Jewish women pray during a bat mitzvah ceremony in Jerusalem’s Old City. The fight over prayer at the nearby Western Wall is far from over as both sides are backing away from a compromise put forward by Jewish Agency chief Natan Sharansky.
Getty Images
Women’s Wall: American Jewish women pray during a bat mitzvah ceremony in Jerusalem’s Old City. The fight over prayer at the nearby Western Wall is far from over as both sides are backing away from a compromise put forward by Jewish Agency chief Natan Sharansky.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published May 10, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Two of the prime players who have been locked in struggle over how Jews should be allowed to pray at the Western Wall have a complicated relationship with the recent grand compromise that Jewish Agency leader Natan Sharansky has offered to solve their dispute.

Both Anat Hoffman, whose group, Women of the Wall, seeks to hold female prayer services at the Wall, complete with prayer shawls and tefillin, and the Wall’s resident Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, who opposes the group, initially embraced Sharansky’s proposal, much to the surprise of many observers.

Soon after, however, both individuals backed away from their respective endorsements. Their reversals seemingly left Sharansky’s proposal hanging out to dry.

But now it seems both parties are back on board — with the emphasis, perhaps, on the word “now.”

In a recent appearance before the Knesset, Rabinowitz told lawmakers that he accepts Sharansky’s proposal. And in a May 7 interview with the Forward, Hoffman stated that she is “absolutely for the Sharansky process.”

That leaves Sharansky free to face the gauntlet of challenges his proposal will face from other quarters, ranging from the government to the Waqf, the Arab foundation that controls an area near the Wall that his compromise will affect. But Sharanksy’s success, or lack thereof, in facing those challenges may, in turn, alter the stances of Hoffman, Rabinowitz and their respective supporters yet again.

“Until we know what it will look like, we’re not signing on the dotted line,” Hoffman said, sending up an early warning sign.

The shifting positions of each side stems in part from the fact that Sharansky’s compromise proposal, unveiled publicly first in the Forward on April 9, gives each of them something they want while undermining their respective principles. The compromise also heightens latent divisions within the respective camps to which each side is tied.

Sharansky proposes to greatly expand Robinson’s Arch, an alternative prayer site directly adjacent to the Wall, and to offer this site, which is also part of the Wall’s expanse, to worshippers who cannot accept traditional Orthodoxy’s strictures; in particular, its insistence on separate worship areas for men and women and its ban on organized prayer services led by and for women alone.

The large American non-Orthodox denominations that have long supported Women of the Wall have eagerly embraced this proposal. They see in it a high-profile opening to boost the status in Israel of their own gender-egalitarian approaches to prayer, which most Israeli Jews have never seen.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.