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!
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • 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.