Sharansky’s Kotel plan in trouble
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Sharansky’s Kotel plan in trouble

TEL AVIV – Following a court ruling in their favor, leaders of an organization pushing for women’s prayer rights at the Western Wall have withdrawn their endorsement of Natan Sharansky’s compromise proposal to expand the egalitarian section there.

A Jerusalem District Court ruled last week that Women of the Wall members who pray together in the regular women’s section of the Western Wall are not contravening the law. Members of the group routinely have been arrested or detained in recent months for wearing prayer shawls at the wall, a practice that before the ruling had been considered in violation of an Israeli law requiring respect for “local custom” at the site.

The landmark ruling appears to have emboldened Women of the Wall, which has moved away from its earlier embrace of Sharansky’s proposal as a tolerable if less than perfect solution.

“We have three options: to reject Sharansky’s plan, to embrace Sharansky’s plan, or to say that right now it is not relevant for Women of the Wall,” Anat Hoffman, the organization’s chair, said. “It’s completely not relevant for us. Our victory in court means that our place is safe.”

Protests over the high-profile arrests of women at the holy site led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late last year to tap Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, to formulate a compromise solution. Under Sharansky’s plan, an existing egalitarian section of the wall known as Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and a unified entrance would be built leading to the wall’s traditional and egalitarian sections.

Initially, the compromise seemed to have worked. Both Hoffman and the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, expressed cautious support. But Rabinowitz also has backtracked from a statement that said that while he didn’t like the proposal, he could “live with it.”

“We must, along with the chief rabbinate and other great rabbis, examine if we should oppose the proposal referring to Robinson’s Arch, which is not part of the Western Wall synagogue, if this would be a solution acceptable to everyone,” Rabinowitz said in a statement last week.

On Tuesday, Sharansky said his proposals were meant as “long-term solutions,” not quick fixes to immediate concerns.

“The merit of these proposals [does] not depend on any day-to-day developments that happen in the courts or near the Kotel itself,” Sharansky said in a statement, using the Hebrew word for the Western Wall. “All the stakeholders have agreed that the next important step is the timeline, which will be developed by the prime minister’s office in the next few weeks.”

But the ruling appears to have lessened Women of the Wall’s appetite for compromise, leading the group to reassert a longstanding insistence on being allowed to pray as it wishes in the regular women’s section. The group has announced that at its monthly service on May 10, a member will read from the Torah in the women’s section. That hasn’t been done for a decade.

The ruling “allows Women of the Wall to pray how we always wished, with women of all denominations in the women’s section, with our prayer shawls and Torah and shofar,” Hoffman said.

JTA Wire Service

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