Separate and unequal. Men and women’s sections at the Western Wall [Archive] – Photo: Uria Tadmor
The bill states that currently, the men’s section is three times bigger than the women’s section, forcing women who pray at the holy site to crowd together, while more often than not, the men’s section remains half empty. This situation, Lavie states in the bill, “must change.”
The plaza is now 56.5 meters (185 feet) long and 37.5 meters (123 feet) wide. The women’s section is about 14 meters (46 feet) long. It is unclear how the bill, if passed, would actually be implemented. The barrier (mechitsa) between the men’s and women’s sections is potentially moveable, and there may be other ways to increase the women’s space without limiting the men’s section.
The bill, which was co-sponsored by 10 other MKs from Yesh Atid, Hatnuah and Labor, was presented in the wake of the growing controversy surrounding a demand by Women of Wall to hold prayer services at the Western Wall while performing religious rituals typically reserved for men under Orthodox Judaism, such as donning tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin. The group has been holding a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall for 24 years.
Israel’s Protection of Holy Places Law, enacted in 1967, bars “any religious ceremony that is not performed according to the custom of the place,” from taking place at the Western Wall. The group insists that state laws ensuring freedom of religion and worship anchor their right to pray according to their own customs.
The practice, however, has often resulted in altercations with ultra-Orthodox men and women praying at the site and the women’s arrest.
Despite the controversy over the issue, April’s Peace Index, compiled by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, found that the 48 percent of Israeli Jews support the Women of the Wall’s right to hold egalitarian prayer services at the Western Wall.
Several petitions have been filed against the Women of the Wall in hopes of securing an injunction that would force them to suspend their monthly prayer service, but the Jerusalem District Court ruled in April that the group was not in violation of any law, and that the legal term “custom of the place” needed to be interpreted in a more inclusive manner than is currently the practice — a task undertaken by Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett.
On Sunday, the Jerusalem home of Women of the Wall member Peggy Cidor was defaced with graffiti reading “Torah tag” and “Jerusalem is holy.” The police said the act, which was denounced by Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz as a “heinous crime,” is likely related to the growing controversy surrounding the subject.