Separate and unequal

Separate and unequal

The group known as the Women of the Wall would never have been happy with the plan Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky spent months painstakingly crafting to give equal access to all streams of Judaism at the Western Wall. Many of these women are Orthodox, and they are not comfortable praying alongside men. Their brief, from the group’s inception, has been to hold their own all-women minyanim on the women’s side of the plaza in front of what many call Judaism’s holiest site.

The Sharansky plan would not have done that for them, but it would have opened up prayer at the Wall to any legitimate Jewish stream (meaning those not actually Christian sects disguised as Jewish ones).

The plan was a step in the right direction. At its heart, it would have wrested exclusive control of the Wall from charedi hands, creating a more balanced and all-inclusive oversight panel, and would then carve out a section of the plaza for egalitarian prayer services. All worshippers, regardless of stream, would enter the plaza at the same place.

Two weeks ago, Sharansky announced that he would submit the final plan this week to the supposedly receptive and supportive government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is under a court order to open up prayer at the Wall to all Jewish streams.

Now, however, it appears that the Netanyahu government had other ideas. While Sharansky was planning, the Netanyahu government was building – specifically, it built what it is calling a prayer platform at the southern wall at the nearby Robinson’s Arch area. The government’s plan would permanently relegate the non-Orthodox to the Robinson’s Arch area, while leaving the Wall itself in charedi hands.

The government plan was unveiled Sunday. It is a bad plan and immediately came under heavy fire – from the Women of the Wall, for whom no alternative to praying behind the mechitzah is acceptable, to the liberal streams seeking egalitarian prayer at the Wall itself.

Because the announcement unleashed a torrent of criticism, the government backtracked Monday. It said its plan was actually just a temporary solution and that the Sharansky plan is still in play.

In all this time, one voice has not been heard in this debate: Netanyahu’s own voice. He needs to now publicly declare his position, and he needs to do so as clearly and as unambiguously as possible. Nothing less will suffice at this point.