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.
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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.
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Rabinowitz is torn in two directions. On the one hand, he is a state employee falling under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, which backs the Sharansky plan. On the other hand, he is a Haredi rabbi who represents Orthodox interests at the Wall — and the Haredi community firmly opposes the plan.

Hamodia, the Jerusalem-based newspaper that reflects the views of leading rabbis, recently editorialized angrily: “The Kotel isn’t ours to give away. The place of the Temple was chosen by God, and the Shechinah [divine presence] has never departed from the Kotel.” Rabinowitz faces criticism, too, from ultra-Orthodox Jews in America, where Der Yid, the Yiddish-language newspaper of the Satmar Hasidim, has chastised him for not battling the plan.

Despite these complexities, Sharansky remains optimistic. He said that a long-term solution to the lengthy conflict over the Wall is within sight. In the same May 7 Knesset meeting that Rabinowitz attended, Sharansky said that if the various parties involved continue the “dialogue” they have started, the detailed plan could be drawn up within 10 months. His spokesman, Benjamin Rutland, told the Forward that the next stage is a “timeline for implementation,” which Sharansky will prepare for review by the relevant parties “within a few weeks.”

But Rabinowitz is expected to fight hard against the clause of the plan that calls for the new prayer section to share an entrance plaza with the existing section — a provision that Sharansky views as important for giving the new section prestige.

And Women of the Wall is emphatic that its support for the plan remains conditional at best. “We want to see how much of the whale actually swims to shore,” Hoffman said.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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