Women of the Wall bring conditions for egalitarian section
JERUSALEM — Women of the Wall presented the conditions under which the group would move its monthly prayer service to a third, egalitarian section of the Western Wall’s plaza.
The 16 conditions – which the group’s leadership presented Monday before a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – pertain to the section’s size, appearance, management, accessibility, budget and name. Together, they mandate that the new section be treated as equal to the existing Western Wall plaza.
Women of the Wall, which meets at the beginning of each Jewish month for a women’s prayer service at the Western Wall, announced earlier this month that it would drop its longstanding demand to hold its service in the wall’s women’s section, should its demands for the egalitarian section be fulfilled. Until then, the group said, it will continue meeting in the women’s section without permission.
“This is not as simple as saying we’re leaving the women’s section and going somewhere else,” Women of the Wall spokesperson Shira Pruce told JTA. “We’re coming into this with our eyes open. We’re staying in the women’s section until the last condition has been met.”
The list presented Monday, though, is comprehensive and could take years to implement – should the government agree to it.
A group within Women of the Wall has objected, in recent weeks, to the possibility of moving the service to the third section – but these conditions could make the internal debate theoretical.
Some conditions accord with an outline for the third section presented in April by Jewish Agency for Israel chair Natan Sharansky, such as the demand that there be a single entrance to all three of the plaza’s sections. Others are already in effect, such as the condition that the section be open, free of charge, 24 hours a day.
But others may prove harder to fulfil. The first condition states that the new section – which is currently a few stories lower than the existing plaza – be elevated to the same height as the others and be adjacent to the wall itself. Accomplishing that would require the approval of the Islamic Wakf, a body that controls the Temple Mount and that has thus far been resistant to physical changes to the site.
Several other conditions could spark political conflict. One condition demands that the authority of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which now administers the plaza, be restricted only to the existing men’s and women’s sections. A new body, with equal women’s representation and including Women of the Wall’s leadership, would run the remainder of the plaza, under the Women of the Wall’s conditions.
The group also demanded that it be allowed to bring a Torah scroll into the women’s section for its monthly service, which is now prohibited.
Pruce said that Women of the Wall would be negotiating with the government, and suggested that the group could be flexible on some of the conditions.
“We aren’t going to argue over one centimetre here or there,” she said. “We’re going into negotiations, that’s a given, but every single condition is a part of a vision that creates equality.”
A joint plan for the Wall’s new egalitarian section, formulated by Sharansky and Israeli cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, is due out in the near future.