— by Richard Lederman
If you haven’t heard by now, there’s a new plan for Jewish worship at the Western Wall — the Kotel — in old Jerusalem. Since Jewish access was restored to the Old City in June 1967 after 19 years of Jordanian control, Orthodox rabbinic authorities have held sole sway over the Kotel, enforcing their understanding of Halakha — Jewish law — pertaining to the forms of worship that could take place there. Most explicit is the strict separation of men and women and the prohibition against certain forms of worship in the women’s section. For instance, women may not wear traditional religious garb — Tallit and Tefillin — and may not read from a Torah scroll. For years, these restrictions have been challenged by The Women of the Wall who have bravely endured humiliation, threats, physical abuse and arrest as they overtly defy these restrictions in acts of civil disobedience.
In the meantime, a new section of the wall has gradually become a venue for egalitarian worship. Underneath a feature of the wall known as Robinson’s Arch, located south of the main plaza, men and women worship and lead the services as equals. In recent months, Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky has concluded a nearly three-year negotiated compromise with the rabbinic authorities and the government affording official status to this section of the Kotel. The execution of this compromise is in the offing, whereby the area in front Robinson’s Arch will be transformed into a plaza not unlike the original plaza created in 1967, with equal 24/7 access for all worshipers. In other words, now you will have two mostly equal choices when you visit the Kotel: the original plaza and this new egalitarian section.
Naturally, as with all compromises, no one is particularly happy, and the announcement of the new arrangement has been met with a slew of articles and opinion pieces in the Jewish press. Even some of the supporters of egalitarian prayer at the Kotel feel let down. Writing in The Forward, Gabriela Geselowitz, a young “Birthrighter,” bemoans the fact that she still can’t wear her Tallit and Tefillin at the part of the Kotel that is from “the postcards, the documentaries, the images of Jewish Jerusalem that the world knows.” To Geselowitz, Robinson’s Arch is not the “real” Kotel, the “authentic” Kotel. “I can’t help thinking,” she concludes, “that we’ve agreed to the idea that being shunted out of the way, to something ‘technically’ part of a holy experience, is enough. It’s not.” [Read more…]