Western Wall Rabbi Drops Support for Mixed Prayer Space

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Reform Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (with an empty Torah scroll left) and Women of the Wall board chair Anat Hoffman right at the Western Wall.Credit: Joan Roth

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz on Monday urged ultra-Orthodox Knesset members to pass legislation that would seemingly prevent the implementation of a compromise decision to establish an egalitarian prayer section at the southern expanse of the Kotel in Jerusalem, to which he was a central partner.

In a letter on Monday, Rabinowitz called on ultra-Orthodox party leaders to introduce legislation to maintain the status quo, annulling both the January 31 cabinet decision and a 2013 district court ruling to allow the Women of the Wall group to pray “in their way” at the main plaza – a reference to public reading of the Torah and wearing prayer shawls.

A day after a Knesset committee backed a proposal to control usage of mikvaot (Jewish ritual baths), Rabinowitz wrote they should “stop the holy site desecration at the Kotel.” He added they should oppose “those who are seeking to tear the Wall and the people of Israel into pieces.”

The letter indicates Rabinowitz’s desire to put the ball in the court of the ultra-Orthodox party leaders, who had failed to give him backing in the face of criticism in the ultra-Orthodox press.

Under the agreement approved by the cabinet, a 900-square-meter new section was to have been built as an egalitarian prayer space at the southern expanse of the Western Wall.

The agreement particularly angered the ultra-Orthodox community by stipulating a common entrance for both gender-segregated and mixed prayer areas.

Attorney Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, said, “I’m sorry for you, my brother Rabbi Rabinowitz. How friends, the Haredi party leaders, dumped you on the roadside. I repeat, changing the government decision will force us to sue in court for what we legally deserve – a third, mixed section at the Kotel itself."

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Arye Dery told Channel 2 that his Shas party would not sit in a government that recognizes the Reform movement.

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