Shalom Life | February 22, 2014

Women of the Wall Agree to Compromise

After 25 years of fighting for women's right to pray at the Kotel, the liberal Jewish group have agreed in principle to move its monthly prayer service to new egalitarian site at Robinson's Arch in exchange for full equality

By: Kobi Nachshoni

Published: October 8th, 2013 in News » Israel

A dramatic development appears to be taking place in the Women of the Wall's struggle for freedom of religion at the Western Wall: For the first time, the liberal group of worshippers has expressed its agreement in principle to a compromise which will see its members move their monthly prayer quorums from the Western Wall plaza to the nearby Robinson's Arch compound.

Ynet has learned that the organization's management convened Sunday night to discuss the outline presented by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit for equality between men and women at the Western Wall, and following a four-hour debate, decided by majority of votes to negotiate with him on the suggested compromise.

Egalitarian plaza not under rabbi's supervision

According to the apparent agreement, the current women's and men's sections are the only places where the "site's custom" (in its conservative interpretation) and the separation between the sexes will be maintained.

The upper compound will be used for official state ceremonies (like the swearing in of IDF soldiers and Jewish Agency receptions for new immigrants) in a mixed format, and at Robinson's Arch (the site adjacent to the Western Wall from its southern side) a plaza will be designated for egalitarian prayer.

The Women of the Wall plan to set a number of conditions for accepting the outline in its negotiations with Mandelblit. They will demand, for example, that the management of the egalitarian areas on the site will be removed from the hands of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation (mainly Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who is in charge on his behalf) and passed to a more liberal group.

This is the first time in its 25 years of activity that the liberal Jewish group agrees in principle to give up on praying at the main compound in exchange for full equality at an alternative site – just several months after the Jerusalem District Court delivered an unprecedented ruling that the woman may practice all their customs at the existing women's section.

Heavy pressure from Reform, Conservative Jews

The dramatic development was led by Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman, and the road to its approval was fraught with internal difficult disputes.

The organization explained that its decision stemmed from the fact that Mandelblit was the first person to hold a brave and sincere dialogue with the group of women, while striving for a real solution which would meet their demands without discriminating against them.

Another factor which affected the decision greatly was heavy pressure in recent weeks from Reform and Conservative Jews in the United States on their representatives in Israel to accept the compromise, following understandings they had reached with Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, another official tasked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with handling the crisis.

The opening of a new prayer compound for both men and women, which was initiated by Minister Naftali Bennett, contributed to the move too. The District Court ruling which allowed the Women of the Wall to observe their customs at the main plaza was based on the judge's conviction that the State had failed to provide them with a suitable alternative prayer site. Now that such a site has been established, the group members feared the High Court of Justice would overturn the District Court's decision – another reason to strive for a compromise.

This story is reprinted with permission from Ynet News

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