At the Western Wall, a Gender Pay Gap

The manpower contractor at Jerusalem's holy site is hiring only women to be so-called modesty attendants, and only men to be (better-paid) tunnel staff.

Tali Meyer

Is there gender discrimination among persons working at the Western Wall in Jerusalem?

Klinor is the manpower contractor that is recruiting workers for various jobs in the area of the Kotel, Judaism’s holiest site. The company published an advertisement last week seeking female “modesty attendants.” The salary advertised was 25 shekels ($6.25) an hour along with full fringe benefits. The use of language applying only to women was explicit in the ad, and was made even clearer in a conversation with the woman who was doing the hiring.

These “modesty stewardesses” stand at the entrance to the women’s section at the Western Wall, and provide various wraps and cover-ups to women who are considered to be dressed immodestly, before they are allowed to enter the holy site. The attendants are required to work five or six shifts a week, either from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., or from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. There is also a morning shift on Fridays, but Saturday – the Sabbath – is of course a day off. For its part, Klinor says the description in the ad was written “according to the customer’s requirements,” and it is intended only for women.

Another job at the Wall, which also requires contact with the public, is called “tunnel attendant.” Here too, the company seeks workers “according to the customer’s requirements,” and these jobs are only for men. The job does not include guiding per se; mostly, the workers are supposed to direct visitors and keep order in the Western Wall Tunnels. They will earn 30 shekels an hour.

The manpower contractor declined to discuss this apparent “man’s job” with this reporter, claiming “it is worth discussing things relevant to you” – that is, as a woman.

Why do the tunnel attendants make about 15% more per hour, and why are they only men? The rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, did not know about the situation, and directed us to the director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which is in charge of the workers at the site.

The information he gave differed from what we were told by Klinor: “There is no gender discrimination in choosing tunnel attendants, and the advertisement is for both men and women,” he wrote in response.

As for the wage differential, he said the jobs require different characteristics: Tunnel attendants are required to speak Hebrew and English fluently, and to have the ability to coordinate as well as experience in providing service to the public and dealing with situations of pressure and crowds – therefore they earn more.