February 3rd, 2016
The size of the non-Orthodox section of the Western Wall will double and a single entrance will lead to both sections
By BEN SALES
TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israel’s government on Sunday approved a compromise to expand the non-Orthodox Jewish prayer section of the Western Wall, putting to rest the decades-long fight between Women of the Wall and Israel’s haredi Orthodox religious establishment.
The deal achieves what had been an elusive goal: an interdenominational consensus on Judaism’s holiest site with official recognition. The non-Orthodox prayer section at the wall will become much larger and more accessible. But haredi control of the Orthodox section will also be solidified, though non-Orthodox leaders have long protested that monopoly.
The deal, a copy of which JTA obtained ahead of the Cabinet vote, still contains a few unknowns. It is unclear how long construction will take. It does not say whether clear signage will direct visitors to the non-Orthodox section. Nor does it say exactly when Women of the Wall, an embattled women’s prayer group, will move its monthly services from the Orthodox Jewish main prayer section to the non-Orthodox one.
Still, the Conservative and Reform movements can declare victory. The size of the non-Orthodox section of the Western Wall will double to nearly 10,000 square feet — half the size of the Orthodox main section just to its north. A committee of non-Orthodox leaders and government officials will manage the non-Orthodox section. And a single entrance will lead to both sections.
The Western Wall’s haredi Orthodox management, called the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, also safeguarded its interests. Non-Orthodox leaders had campaigned for a share of control of the Orthodox section of the wall, but the Heritage Foundation will retain full authority over it and the larger plaza behind the prayer sections. And when the plan is implemented, Women of the Wall will move to the non-Orthodox section, one of the Heritage Foundation’s long-standing demands.
“They all came to the conclusion that they must make serious compromises because they want it to remain one Kotel for one people,” Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky told JTA, using the Hebrew term for the site. “It’s the place that must unite us more than anything else, and it turned into the most ugly war.”