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Sharansky set to propose new egalitarian section at Western Wall

Jewish Agency director, charged with finding a compromise on women’s prayer at holy site, is in the US meeting Jewish leaders

Jewish worshipers cover themselves with prayer shawls at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, March 28, 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish worshipers cover themselves with prayer shawls at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, March 28, 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky was in the US Tuesday to present to American Jewish leaders part of his proposal to resolve the issue of nontraditional prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which will reportedly include a greatly enlarged section for egalitarian services.

The enlarged prayer section, which will have to be approved by the government, will be as large as the current men’s and women’s sections combined and include the area known as Robinson’s Arch, the Forward reported on Tuesday.

As part of a previous compromise, Robinson’s Arch is open at certain times for egalitarian prayer, but it is inside an archaeological site and a fee is charged for entrance. The new proposed area is likely to be open at all times without a fee, like the main prayer section at the Wall.

Jewish Agency spokesman Benjamin Rutland declined to comment on the report.

The issue of women’s and nontraditional prayer at the Western Wall is a divisive issue in the relationship between Israel and Jews in the Diaspora, especially in America, where most Jews follow Reform or Conservative egalitarian practice. That’s currently forbidden at the Western Wall, which largely functions as an open-air Orthodox synagogue.

The compromise proposal is unlikely to placate the Women of the Wall, whose monthly Rosh Hodesh (new moon) women’s-only prayer sessions, held in the women’s section, have often resulted in arrests. The group has stated previously that it seeks to implement progressive women’s prayer at the wall, not egalitarian services.

Western Wall regulations dictate that women cannot wear tallitot, or prayer shawls, in the same manner as men, as it contravenes the “local custom” determined by the Wall’s chief rabbi. In 2003, the High Court of Justice upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin (phylacteries) or tallitot or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.

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