Pressure mounted on Israel this week to consider relaxing the restrictions governing prayer and behavior in place at the Western Wall, with the head of the Jewish Agency writing a letter to the government that expressed “deep concern” about policies at Judaism’s holiest site.
The letter from Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, to the general secretary of the Prime Minister’s office, follows last month’s arrest –and alleged mistreatment – by police of Anat Hoffman, who was praying with a tallit at the Kotel, as the Western Wall is known in Israel.
The Jewish Agency released the letters to eJewishPhilanthropy, said Dan Brown, founder and head of the Jerusalem-based website focusing on the Jewish communal world, which carried the letters in its Nov. 12 newsletter.
The leader of the Women of the Wall organization and of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, Hoffman was arrested on Oct. 16 during a service at which 200 women from Hadassah participated.
Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that women cannot wear a tallit or tefillin, or chant from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, since those practices are against prevailing – Orthodox – practice. Hoffman’s arrest galvanized non-Orthodox groups in the United States and Israel.
Sharansky’s letter, which followed an earlier call by the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors for a “satisfactory approach” to prayer at the Kotel, called for a dialogue on the topic with the government and with the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which is responsible for maintaining and renovating the Kotel.
“Every matter pertaining to the Western Wall, and particularly to the conduct of government authorities in relation thereto, is of such tremendous sensitivity to world Jewry,” Sharansky’s letter stated.
Tzvi Hauser, government secretary, wrote back that the Prime Minister’s office will join Sharansky, at an unspecified time and location, “in further examining the subject.”
“A balance must be struck between the right of every person to pray as he wishes, and the need to balance that right with the need to avoid harming the previling custom held by others who worship at the Western Wall,” Hauser wrote.