The current Women of the Wall leadership is unlawfully negotiating away women’s rights to pray as they see fit in the women’s section of the Western Wall, the original founders of the organization alleged Wednesday in a scathing letter addressed to supporters.
“Anat Hoffman intends to sign an agreement—the Mandelblit Plan,” they wrote in their dissenting letter. “This plan surrenders women’s rights to pray together aloud, don tallit, lay tefillin and read from the Torah scroll in the women’s section at the Kotel.”
In response, the Women of the Wall rejected any suggestion that its actions have been dishonest or dishonorable. While “debate, dissent and disagreement are integral parts of a dynamic and relevant feminist, Jewish movement like ours,” it said in a March 9 letter, “there is no legitimacy to claims that the Women of the Wall board have acted unlawfully.”
The Mandelblit Plan would secure funding for egalitarian prayer facilities to be built over the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall plaza, which has been used for non-Orthodox prayer for 10 years, but would formally recognizes the main prayer plaza as “solely for Orthodox services,” according to an August statement from the Jerusalem and Diaspora Ministry. The new plaza also does not offer direct physical access to the stones of the Western Wall, generally a key part of the prayer experience at the site for visiting Jews.
“The Mandelblit plan will harm not only women,” the dissenters’ letter continued. “Enforcing strict Orthodox practice at the Kotel capitulates to and rewards intolerance, disrespect, and bullying with territorial hegemony and counters the Israeli trend to hold all Israelis accountable to core values of civil society. We must intervene now to ensure that ours and the coming generations of Jewry can express our precious and diverse customs at the Kotel.”
The original founders of Women of the Wall allege that by signing the agreement, Hoffman is breaking the law.
“The current WoW board took its decision without the due process required by Israeli NGO law—in violation of the registered and intended purposes of WoW to promote women’s group public prayer in the women’s section at the Kotel with Torah and tallit,” they stated in the letter.
Last week, the negotiations hit a snag over a draft agreement that handed control of parts of the Western Wall, including Robinson’s Arch to the Orthodox-affiliated City of David Foundation, which runs the City of David tourist site in Jerusalem’s Old City and works to settle Jews in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
CEO of Israel’s Masorti Movement, Yizhar Hess, argued on behalf of the Israeli Conservative and Reform movements that the plan would depart from a compromise on the Western Wall outlined last year by the Jewish Agency for Israel’s chairman, Natan Sharansky. Sharansky’s outline proposed creating a pluralist council to manage the site.
Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit said that he intends to block the agreement.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.