Israel approves mixed-sex Jewish prayer site at Western Wall

Sun Jan 31, 2016 10:03am EST
 
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By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli government approved on Sunday the creation of a mixed-sex plaza at Jerusalem's Western Wall to accommodate Jews who contest Orthodox curbs on worship by women there.

The wall is revered as a vestige of Judaism's two ancient temples and access to it is segregated by gender. Most religious rites take place in the men's section in accordance with centuries-old Orthodox standards that hold sway in Israel.

The new area will be located at a separate expanse of the wall that, when seen from the plaza looking toward the wall, stands to the right of the current Orthodox-administered compound where men and women will still worship separately.

More liberal streams of Judaism, which outside of Israel have larger followings than Orthodoxy, chafe at the restriction. It is regularly challenged by the activist group "Women of the Wall", sometimes setting off scuffles and police intervention.

Under the plan approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet over objections from Orthodox members, an old archaeological site will be turned into a plaza where men and women can mix and pray freely.

In remarks broadcast before the 15-to-5 vote, Netanyahu said the plan sought a "solution to the question of the Women of the Wall" and "a compromise on this sensitive issue of a place that is meant to unite the Jewish people".

Welcoming the blueprint, Women of the Wall activist Rabbi Susan Silverman told Reuters: "This is an extremely joyful day."

Natan Sharansky, the head of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency chosen by Netanyahu in 2013 to resolve the dispute, has said the new plaza would not entail structural damage to the nearby al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site.   Continued...

 
Members of activist group "Women of the Wall" speak to the media following the Israeli government's approval to create a mixed-sex prayer plaza near Jerusalem's Western Wall to accommodate Jews who contest Orthodox curbs on worship by women at the site, in Jerusalem's Old City January 31, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen