Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to convene on Sunday a special committee in order to approve the construction of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, the Walla news site reported Thursday.
On Tuesday Netanyahu was appointed by the Knesset to head the committee after Culture Minister Miri Regev said she was unable to approve the work, citing her conscience and “Jewish tradition,” and stepped down as committee chair.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz was appointed to replace Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on the committee.
In response to the reports, Jerusalem’s Sephardic chief rabbi issued a ruling Thursday that it is forbidden to hold mixed prayer anywhere along the length of the Western Wall.
“I repeat the well-known ruling, that the entire Western Wall along its entire length is a holy place, and all the laws of a synagogue and a house of study apply,” said Shlomo Amar, a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel.
“No person has permission to trample a holy site, not through transgressing Shabbat or festivals and not with men and women praying together.”
Earlier this week Netanyahu tried to find a volunteer to head the committee in Regev’s stead but was met with silence, a participant in the meeting told The Times of Israel.
In response, a rankled Netanyahu said: “I will deal with the Western Wall agreement myself.”
The original decision to build the pavilion dates back to January 31, 2016, when the government — spurred by decades of high-profile activism by the feminist prayer group Women of the Wall — approved the so-called Western Wall compromise. Painstakingly negotiated since 2012 with leaders of liberal Judaism and other prominent figures, it provided for the construction of a permanent pluralistic area at the site of a currently existing temporary one. Other key aspects of the plan included a single entrance to the area to be shared with the Orthodox gender-segregated prayer plaza, and the establishment of a board of pluralistic Jewry to oversee the mixed-gender area.
But on June 25, 2017, Netanyahu froze the compromise. While killing off the joint entrance and pluralistic governing board, however, he vowed to continue with the construction of a permanent platform.
Archaeological checks close to the platform began in February 2018 by the Israel Antiquities Authority, which is tasked by the government with overseeing new construction. But bureaucratic hurdles remain in the building process.
In a possible explanation for Likud ministers’ reluctance to take up the issue, some 100 Likud activists published a letter on Sunday backing Regev’s rejection of the committee.
“We support the bold decision of Culture Minister Miri Regev to protect the sanctity of the Western Wall and to not allow the creation of a Reform plaza next to it,” read the letter. “We stand with you in the struggle for the Western Wall,” they told Regev.