Women of the Wall Present Conditions for a Third, Equal Section of the Western Wall
Anat Hoffman: “This space is revolutionary. It will allow every Jew, man and woman, to pray, celebrate and hold religious ceremonies at the Western Wall. However, know that we are resolved: We will pray there only if it is built in this spirit and according to our conditions.”
In 25 years of prayer and struggle for equality, Women of the Wall have achieved the right for women’s voices to be heard at the Kotel and the government has recognized the importance of women’s involvement in shaping the future of the Western Wall. At 10:00 this morning Women of the Wall are submitting a list of conditions for the creation of an equal, fully integrated third section of the Western Wall (Kotel) to Avichai Mandelblit, Israel’s Cabinet Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office. A pre-condition to this document is that Women of the Wall will continue to pray in the women’s section until a third section is created and completed to the satisfaction of the multi-denominational women’s prayer group.
The conditions submitted today illustrate Women of the Wall’s vision for the Western Wall, taking into consideration not only physical structure but also infrastructure, government involvement, social responsibility and budget. In designing a Kotel that accurately reflects the diversity of the people of Israel and also welcomes Jewish people from all over the world, Women of the Wall considered not only the religious aspects of the space but also cultural and national importance of the holy site. Women of the Wall’s Executive Board held discussions consulting with hundreds of active participants and supporters in Israel and abroad over the past month while formulating this document.
As Women of the Wall take steps towards this vision, they ask no less from Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, chair of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Rabinowitz will have to loosen his grip and share the holy space with Jews from all denominations.
The group stands ardent and resolute behind these conditions:
- A contiguous plaza that can accommodate at least 500 women, in direct contact with the Western Wall. The height of the new section will be the same as that of the women’s section.
- The new section will be open to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without payment and without the need to book in advance.
- One entrance for three sections. There will be easy and comfortable access from the (northern) Western Wall Plaza to the third section.
- The new section will be renamed to include the word “Kotel.” For example: The Western Wall – Ezrat Clal Yisrael.
- Ezrat Clal Yisrael will have a managing body including members of Women of the Wall and other relevant parties. Fifty percent of the managing body will be women.
- The body managing Ezrat Clal Yisrael will enjoy state budgets at least equal in scale to those of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
- The state’s treatment of the new section will be equal in all official references (to the men’s and women’s sections). The signage, personnel, and publications (in print and on the internet) will be completely equal. The state will act by all means at its disposal to transform the Ezrat Clal Yisrael to integrate the third section into the Kotel.
- The state, through the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Tourism, and additional relevant bodies, will refer visitors from abroad, school trips, tours by IDF soldiers, official ceremonies, and visiting dignitaries to Ezrat Clal Yisrael.
- The upper (Northern) Western Wall Plaza will be a national site open to all. The authority of Rabbi Rabinowitz and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation will be restricted to the segregated prayer sections only.
- The upper plaza will be managed by the same body that manages Ezrat Clal Yisrael. No additional space will be allocated to the segregated prayer plaza at the expense of the upper plaza.
- Women of the Wall will play an active role in designing the section. Among other functions, Women of the Wall will ensure and attend to the following:
- Women of the Wall will take part in designing the temporary partition to surround women’s groups during prayer. The partition will be accessible at all times.
- Women of the Wall’s Torah scroll will be stored in a safe, accessible, dignified place in the prayer area, as will the other Torah scrolls.
- Amplification devices will be permitted in the new section solely in accordance with rules to be determined by the managing body.
- Access to people with disabilities will be ensured. There will be no prohibition of wheelchairs on Shabbat (current Western Wall Heritage Foundation policy).
- The state will act sensitively with regard to archeological values and antiquities in the Southern Western Wall site.
- A sign will be displayed at the Western Wall commemorating the liberation of the Kotel by IDF paratroopers in 1967 (currently prohibited by Western Wall Heritage Foundation policy)
- The bodies managing the three Western Wall sections will hold joint meetings six times a year.
- Pending the completion of the new section in accordance with the above-mentioned conditions, Women of the Wall will be able to hold the Rosh Hodesh service in the women’s section, including bringing in and reading from a Torah scroll. The necessary steps will be taken to suspend the instruction of Rabbi Rabinowitz prohibiting entrance to the Kotel with Torah scrolls.
- The Mandelblit Committee will undertake to address and to prevent the actions of the Rabbi Rabinowitz and Haredi leaders who are organizing demonstrations against the Women of the Wall, effective immediately. The committee will also prevent the Rabbi Rabinowitz or persons on his behalf from using the amplification system in the Western Wall during the Women of the Wall’s Rosh Hodesh prayers.
On November 4, 2013 Women of the Wall will celebrate the organization’s 25th Anniversary. Over 450 women are already registered to attend Rosh Hodesh Kislev prayers with Women of the Wall on the women’s side of the Kotel. Groups are coming from all over Israel and North American for the festivities. On November 4, 2013 at 8AM the women will gather for their monthly prayer service. Following the prayer service, at 9:30 AM Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall Chair will address the press, as will Rachel Liel, Executive Director of the New Israel Fund.