Is Western Wall Prayer Platform Step Forward for Women — Or Back?

Women of Wall Blast 'Sun Deck' as Diversion From Kotel

israel government

By Nathan Jeffay

Published August 30, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

For more than a decade, Jews have been permitted to hold egalitarian prayer services at a southern section of the Western Wall that lies out of sight of Orthodox worshippers. But the area, known as Robinson’s Arch in the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, never became a government-supported prayer facility. Worshippers have always been guests of the archaeological site, often having to pay entrance fees. Hours were limited, and the state did not provide amenities such as prayer books.

All that changed on August 25, when, after just two weeks of construction, the government completed a 4,840-square-foot concourse in the archaeological park and promised that it would stay open 24/7 for non-Orthodox mixed-gender prayer, accessible without charge. The state will provide prayer books and other religious objects.

“For the first time since the liberation of the Kotel in 1967, all Jews are now able to pray in a respectable place at one of Judaism’s holiest sites,” Naftali Bennett, minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, told the Forward. “This is aimed at unifying the Jewish people and enabling all Jews from all walks of life to pray freely at the Kotel.”

Bennett’s unexpected announcement received decidedly mixed responses in the United States and Israel. Natan Sharansky, who as chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel has promoted his own bold plan for equal, egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, welcomed the development. Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements offered tepid, tentative approval. And far from rejoicing, the Women of the Wall, the group that has led the fight for women’s prayer at the Kotel, reacted furiously to the development and staged a 24-hour sit-in at the Wall in protest.

Women of the Wall’s anger stems in part from the government’s declared intention to use the opening of the new facility to cement Orthodox control of the main part of the Wall, with Bennett’s office saying that it will receive “official recognition” as exclusively Orthodox.

If and when this happens, Women of the Wall will probably fall through the cracks of the new arrangement. Although the group promotes women-only prayer (whereas prayer on the new platform will be mixed), it diverges from conventional Orthodox practice in demanding that women be able to wear prayer garments and read from the Torah at the Kotel — actions that recently have landed some of its members in jail.

The group cites further concerns about the interim plan, likening it to a “sun deck” and complaining that it isn’t equal in size or status to the main Orthodox-controlled prayer section. The new platform is accessed not from the main Kotel plaza but through the archaeological park entrance. The flooring is more basic than the stone flooring at the plaza; it is lower down than the plaza; it isn’t close enough to the Wall to allow worshippers to touch it, and it faces a section of the Wall excavated in the 19th century, not the stones that have been visited for centuries.

“The plaza is made of ancient rock and makes you feel you are in the footsteps of your ancestors, but the sundeck feels like a sundeck,” Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall’s chairwoman, said shortly after completing her sit-in.

As far as Bennett’s office is concerned, Women of the Wall’s reaction is misplaced, as the new concourse is only part of what non-Orthodox Jewry will receive in a permanent Kotel plan. Bennett calls it an “interim” step for a period of time expected to be quantified in a government report in September, in which Cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, working with Sharansky, devises and implements a final arrangement.


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!
  • "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?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • 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.