Women of the Wall Dissenters Launch Campaign to Foil Kotel Deal

Online campaign aims to thwart agreement organization made with the Israeli government accepting compromise that would have the group praying at egalitarian prayer section.

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A group of longstanding Women of the Wall activists, who oppose the decision taken by the organization’s leadership to consider ceding the battle over prayer at the women’s section of the Western Wall, has launched the first stage of its counter-campaign.

On Thursday, the dissenters invited supporters of the women’s prayer group to weigh in on the controversial compromise deal approved by the Women of the Wall board by voting in an online referendum.

The referendum, published on a newly created Facebook page, says the following:
“The vision of women's full, autonomous, public prayer at the Kotel - reading from a Torah scroll, wrapped in tallitot, and binding with tefillin - is larger than any of us.
Please share your views about the current choice Women of the Wall face. Should Women of the Wall accept the Mandelblit-Sharansky plan to move to the Robinson's Arch egalitarian prayer area, or do you support persevering with the core vision in the women's section of the Kotel plaza, assuring its diversity and staving off exclusive ultra-Orthodox control over the sacred place?”

Last week, at the recommendation of Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman, the board voted in favor of moving the group’s monthly prayer service from the women’s section to a new egalitarian section on the other side of the Mughrabi Bridge, subject to a list of conditions. It thereby accepted in principle the outline of a plan drafted by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, currently being fleshed out by a government committee headed by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit.

Earlier this week, Cheryl Birkner Mack resigned from the board in protest of the compromise decision. Most of the dissenters, among them some of the founding members of the group, live in the United States.

“It’s easy to sit in America and watch things play out here. It’s much more difficult when you have to sit here and deal with Mendelblit,” Hoffman said in a conference call with supporters this week.

Last Friday, the dissenters published a petition protesting the board's decision to abandon what they believe to be the key mission of Women of the Wall.

In exchange for leaving the Western Wall's women’s section after 25 years of praying there once a month on Rosh Chodesh, Women of the Wall are demanding that women who wish to pray together in the new egalitarian prayer space be allowed to do so and that they be provided access to a provisional mechitzah, or divider, separating them from the men.

They are also demanding that there be one entrance and one contiguous national plaza for all three prayer sections – the already existing men’s and women’s spaces and the new mixed space – as well as full equality in funding. Women of the Wall have insisted that Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Kotel rabbi, have nothing to do with the new egalitarian space and that equal representation be given to women on the board that runs it.

Bnei Akiva's leadership is split over both women's right to pray near the Western Wall, and whether they can don prayer shawls and phylacteries. Credit: AP

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