Women of the Wall agrees to pray in new space, with conditions

Women of the Wall agreed in principle to pray in a new egalitarian space adjacent to the Western Wall Plaza, provided the space meets several conditions regarding design and management.

Until those conditions are met, Women of the Wall said in a statement Oct. 7, its members will continue praying at the women’s section of the Western Wall, as they have done for 25 years at the beginning of each Jewish month.

Before now, the group had said a new egalitarian section of the Wall would not be “relevant” to its needs.

This week’s policy change brings Women of the Wall in line with other non-Orthodox groups in Israel, such as the Conservative and Reform movements, which saw the new section as an answer to their requests for pluralism at the holy site. Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Conservative movement in Israel, called the change “a very positive step.”

The egalitarian section, to be located in an area adjacent to the plaza known as Robinson’s Arch, was first proposed in April as part of a plan by Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky to resolve religious conflict at the Wall. Sharansky, along with Knesset Cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, is due to release the full plan in the coming weeks.

In order to pray in the new section, the group is demanding that the section be equal to the existing plaza in size, topography, budget and facilities. In addition, the group is demanding a unified entrance and a shared plaza between all of the Wall’s sections, and asks that a body of Jewish leaders, with equal women’s representation, run the new section. The existing plaza is managed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, a haredi Orthodox organization.

The group’s most recent service, on Oct. 4, was the calmest in months, but the women still encountered opponents screaming and, according to some reports, spitting as they prayed. — jta