Israeli Police to Ensure Mixed-gender Prayer at Egalitarian Western Wall Section

The order from the Prime Minister's Office came following an incident five months ago in which a worshiper at the site placed a barrier between men and women

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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The Western Wall on Jerusalem Day in May 2022.
The Western Wall on Jerusalem Day in May 2022.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Office has ordered the police to enforce a prohibition on setting up barriers at the mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall, located south of the Mughrabi Gate.

The order follows an incident five months ago in which a worshiper at the site placed a barrier between men and women, with the police refusing to accede to requests by orderlies to remove it, arguing that they had no instructions for dealing with the matter. Subsequently, the Prime Minister’s Office requested clearly written instructions so that police could be employed in future cases.

Drorit Steinmetz, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office budgets and projects department, wrote Herzl Ben Ari, CEO of the Company for the Development and Renovation of the Jewish Quarter, instructing him to ensure that anyone who tries to erect a barrier is blocked at the entrance to the area. “Orderlies are not allowed to use force to prevent the introduction of barriers and need to involve the police,” she wrote.

The area was designated for mixed-gender prayers a decade ago in order to allow Reform and Conservative Jews to pray near the Western Wall as they choose to. The small plaza, a continuation of the larger one opposite the Wall, has been the scene of many confrontations with the ultra-Orthodox and other activists who object to such mixed-gender prayers.

The head of the far-right Noam party, Knesset Member Avi Maoz, assailed Lapid for issuing the instructions. “In contravention of halakha [Jewish law], tradition and even the law, Lapid is again defiling holy Jewish precepts,” said Maoz.

“The true face of Lapid and his supporters has again been exposed. Defiling the sanctity of the Kotel [the Western Wall] is part of the secularization of the Jewish identity of the state. The Reform Movement has shown that the Kotel is but one more means in the struggle to change the Jewish character of Israel. Lapid and Lieberman are the tools for realizing the Reform vision.”

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