In an attempt to soothe tensions at the Western Wall ahead of the High Holidays over the issue of women’s right to pray there collectively, the Israeli government has built a platform for services outside the main plaza, a move denounced as “exile” by the primary group that has been pushing for change at one of Judaism’s holiest sites.
The 450-person platform, according to a statement issued Sunday by Israeli government minister Naftali Bennett, would serve as a “primary place of worship for Jewish egalitarian and pluralistic prayer services.” The existing, iconic prayer plaza at the Wall will receive official recognition as a prayer site to be used solely for Orthodox services, the statement also said.
Women of the Wall, the civil rights group that has been agitating for two decades for women’s right to pray audibly collective at the main site, pointed out in its statement that the platform is in an area separated by a wall and out of view of the Western Wall.
“If this plan is accepted, the government will be excluding over 50% of the Jewish population to the ‘back of the bus,” the group said in its statement rejecting the plan and announcing a 24-hour sit-in at the Wall to protest the proposal.
The new plan was devised in consultation with leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States and with the offices of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who Netanyahu tapped earlier this year to come up with a solution to the problem.
Sharansky’s office responded by calling the prayer plaza “a temporary gesture of goodwill” that he hoped would create an atmosphere of trust as various constituencies work to find a permanent arrangement.
“The temporary platform unveiled today … is a gesture of food will, but it is, at best, a very small step forward in the implementation of the full plan for full Jewish equality at the Kotel,” the Reform movement said in its statement.