Non-Orthodox worshippers were shocked to discover Sunday morning that a sign marking their temporary mixed prayer space at the Western Wall had been removed by Jerusalem city officials.
The sign, at the entrance to a platform at the southern expanse of the Western Wall, had been posted more than three years ago by the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, headed then by Naftali Bennett, chairman of Habayit Hayehudi. Bennett had also constructed the makeshift platform that has been used since then for mixed-prayer services by Conservative and Reform Jews.
The sign was removed in response to a complaint from Betzedek, an ultra-Orthodox organization that opposes mixed prayer services at the Jewish holy site.
In recent months, other Orthodox groups have made a point of encroaching on the space, deliberately holding their prayer services there rather than at the much larger, gender-segregated platform on the northern side of the Western Wall. When conducting services in the designated egalitarian area, known as “Azarat Yisrael,” the Orthodox worshippers bring a partition with them to separate men from women.
“Removing the sign should be seen as part of their struggle to undermine the government plan to create a permanent egalitarian plaza at this location,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel. “It is a direct outcome of all the government’s foot-dragging in implementing this plan.”
The non-Orthodox movements – together with Women of the Wall, the feminist prayer group – have petitioned the Supreme Court demanding that the government either build them a permanent egalitarian space, as promised, or redivide the existing gender-separated spaces to make room for mixed-prayer services.
The state was supposed to have submitted its response to the Supreme Court on January 1 but failed to meet the deadline. Instead, it asked for a third extension. This time, however, the petitioners rejected their request. Both sides are now waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh in.
“I am astounded that the mayor of Jerusalem would, under pressure from various groups, send city inspectors to remove a sign put up by the government of Israel,” said Yizhar Hess, head of the Conservative-Masorti movement in Israel.
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