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Israel Reveals New Egalitarian Platform Near the Kotel

Located at the Western Wall site known as 'Robinson's Arch', the platform has already been met with an overall mixed response

By: Graham Sigurdson
Published: August 27th, 2013 in News » Israel
Anat Hoffman, Leader of Women of the Wall, reads at Robinson's Arch

Ahead of the forthcoming high holidays, the Israeli Minister for religious services, Naftali Bennet, has unveiled a 4,800-square-foot platform for non-orthodox prayer at the Western Wall site known as ‘Robinson’s Arch,’ an archaeological site that has been used by egalitatian groups for prayer.

In a statement regarding the platform, Bennet’s office explained that it would be a place that would act "as an interim but primary place for worship of Jewish egalitarian and pluralistic prayer services." For added 'convenience', the platform will have Torah scrolls, prayer books and shawls, and will be open at all hours. The platform itself does not reach the Western Wall.

According to the JTA, Bennet spoke highly of the platform, stating that "The Kotel belongs to all Jews no matter who they are and what stream of Judaism they are from. This new platform, built ahead of Rosh Hashanah, will help unify the Jewish people and enable all Jews to pray freely at the Kotel."

The platform came, seemingly, as a result of continued conflicts between haredi protestors and the feminist group Women of the Wall, known for their monthly Rosh Chodesh service in the women’s section of the Western Wall Plaza. The group has been fighting for the right to wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah at the wall, which many ultra Orthodox Jews have spoken out against, citing it as a provocation.

In lieu of several arrests of members of Women of the Wall, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, proposed a compromise, a detailed plan of which is due this week.

The dispute has proven problematic for the government, with Bennet (who supports the Western Wall Plaza as a place exclusively for Orthodox prayer) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who supports Women of the Wall, coming into conflict. Bennet wishes to institute a statute keeping the plaza restricted to Orthodox prayer, one that would require Livni’s approval, which he is hesitant to give.

Under the current plan, Robinson’s Arch will have various improvements added to it, making it an area that offers both traditional and egalitarian prayer. In regards to Bennet’s platform, Sharansky deemed it a "gesture of goodwill."

The Women of the Wall, however, see it otherwise, viewing the platform as a detriment that, in a statement, was described as “the very definition of separate, and not nearly close to equal. The plan will effectively exile women and all Jews who pray in a way that is not ultra-Orthodox tradition to Robinson’s Arch and away from the area of the Western Wall where Jews have prayed for generations." This comes after their recent legal victories at the wall, which allows them to pray at the Kotel, albeit under police protection.

Speaking to JTA, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly aired their apprehensions regarding the plan.

"A temporary platform does not in any way sway us from our struggle for full religious equality. If the temporary platform makes prayer easier and better for more worshipers at Robinson’s Arch, that is positive."

Related articles: Jewish News, Israel News, Western Wall, Kotel, Women of the Wall, Egalitarian
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