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Ultra-Orthodox Lawmaker To Block Funding for Western Wall Expansion

TEL AVIV — The chair of the Knesset Finance Committee intends to block funding for a plan to expand the non-Orthodox prayer section of the Western Wall, a source familiar with the plan told JTA.

Moshe Gafni of the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party intends to use his committee post to deny the approximately $10 million needed to fund the expansion, said the source, who requested anonymity. In response, the Prime Minister’s Office is seeking other sources of funding, including from the Jerusalem municipality, the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism, and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Gafni’s spokesman did not respond to several calls for comment.

The Cabinet is expected to vote Sunday on the expansion plan. Haredi government ministers had planned to be absent for the vote to avoid supporting or opposing it.

The plan has been negotiated since 2013 by the government, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Reform and Conservative movements, the Western Wall’s haredi Orthodox management and Women of the Wall, a women’s prayer group that holds monthly services in the site’s women’s section.

In 2013, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky drafted an outline for a plan calling for Robinson’s Arch to be expanded, and a shared entrance to be built for the Orthodox and non-Orthodox sections of the wall. Women of the Wall would move their prayers from the women’s section of the traditional wall to Robinson’s Arch.

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