Women of the Wall offers conditions for Western Wall egalitarian section


JERUSALEM (JTA) – Women of the Wall presented 16 conditions under which the group would move its monthly prayer service to a third, egalitarian section of the Western Wall’s plaza.

The group’s leadership presented the conditions on Monday to Israeli Cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit ahead of a future meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They pertain to the section’s size, appearance, management, accessibility, budget and name.

Taken together, the conditions mandate that the new section be treated as equal to the existing Western Wall plaza.

Women of the Wall announced earlier in October that it would drop its longstanding demand to hold its monthly women’s prayer service at the women’s section of the Western Wall if its conditions for the egalitarian section are met.

Until then, the group said, it will continue meeting in the women’s section.

“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, however, 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 the 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 Chairman Natan Sharansky, such as that there be a unified entrance to all three of the plaza’s sections. Others are already in effect, such as the condition that the section be free and open 24 hours a day.

But others may prove harder to fulfill. The first condition states that the new section, which currently is a few stories lower than the existing plaza, be elevated to the same height and be adjacent to the wall itself. That would require the approval of the Islamic Wakf, the body that controls the Temple Mount and thus far has been resistant to physical changes to the site.

Several other conditions could spark political conflict. One 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 now is prohibited.

Pruce said Women of the Wall would negotiate with the government and suggested the group could be flexible on some of the conditions.

“We aren’t going to argue over one centimeter 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 Mandelblit is due out in the near future.

Recommended from JTA