Naftali Bennett, the religious affairs minister, is set to draft his own plan for new prayer rules at the Western Wall and has invited the feminist prayer group the Women of the Wall to consult with him on the matter.
Bennett’s decision to get involved in the controversial debate came in the wake of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s decision Monday not to appeal a recent court ruling that essentially granted the Women of the Wall freedom to pray at the Wall as they see fit without police interference.
The Women of the Wall, who gather monthly to celebrate Rosh Hodesh (the new moon) in the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza, pray with tefillin, prayer shawls and Torah scrolls, religious items traditionally used only by men. The group says its actions are not in contravention of halacha (Jewish law).
Police have occasionally arrested members of the group for their activities, saying they violate a 2003 Supreme Court decision barring them from wearing prayer shawls and reading from the Torah, because those actions deviate from the Orthodox “tradition of the site,” upset other worshipers and cause disturbances.
An April 25 decision by Judge Moshe Sobel of the Jerusalem District Court, which ruled that that the Supreme Court decision didn’t warrant arrests of Women of the Wall activists, was a significant victory for the group and a defeat for the state prosecution and police, who arrested five of the women on April 11 and charged them with disturbing the peace.
The next Rosh Hodesh prayer service is scheduled for Friday morning.
Bennett said he hopes that within a month, there will be clear regulations on permitted behavior at the Western Wall. It is unclear how his initiative will affect that of Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, who was tasked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with drafting a solution to the prayer crisis at the Wall and is scheduled to present a draft of his proposal to the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women on Tuesday.
Sharansky’s proposal calls for the area currently known as Robinson’s Arch to be set aside for egalitarian services, to rename it as part of the Western Wall, to change it from a paid-entry tourism area to an open prayer site, and to directly connect it to the main Western Wall plaza.
However, after their April court victory the Women of the Wall withdrew their support for the Sharansky plan. Women of the Wall head Anat Hoffman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that because of the ruling, the proposal was “completely not relevant for us. Our victory in court means that our place is safe.”
Matti Friedman contributed to this report.