Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, said a new bill that would outlaw women wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall will have “grave consequences” for the relationship between Israel and Jews in the diaspora.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas party proposed the bill this week, with support from several members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
The bill would enforce strict Orthodox code at the Western Wall. Women will not be able to wear phylacteries, read Torah or blow a shofar at the Jewish holy site. Violators would pay a 10,000-shekel fine (about $2,620) and could face up to six months in prison.
The bill would also hand full control of the Western Wall to Israel’s chief Orthodox leaders.
The bill would roll back progress made after months of grueling negotiations and years of bitter public disputes over the issue. In January 2016, Sharansky helped secure a pledge by the Israeli government to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. That plan was endorsed by Women of the Wall, a group that has been protesting for equal prayer rights for women at the holy site. Non-Orthodox American Jewish movements have vocally supported the Western Wall deal, threatening that American Jews will back away from Israel if is not implemented.
Sharansky said that the bill makes a “mockery of all the efforts made by recent governments to ensure that the Western Wall is a place that unites, rather than divides, the Jewish people.”
Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.