A Big Change Hits the Western Wall

Men and women will be able to pray together
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 1, 2016 8:21 AM CST
A Big Change Hits the Western Wall
A Jewish woman wears a prayer shawl as she prays at the Western Wall, the holiest site for Jews to pray in Jerusalem's Old City.   (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

In what is being hailed as a "landmark decision" by some and received "with a heavy heart" by others, the Israeli government has approved the creation of an area for mixed-gender praying at the Western Wall. The Women of the Wall organization has sought equal prayer rights at the sacred Jewish site for 27 years, the Guardian reports. "We were the catalyst for something revolutionary," the group's chairwoman tells the New York Times, adding that approval of the new prayer space amounts to an acknowledgment "that there is more than one way to be Jewish." Currently the Western Wall (or Kotel in Hebrew) has segregated prayer areas for men and women, per the Times. The site—the last remnant of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount—is managed by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz of the Orthodox rabbinate.

Calling Women of the Wall a "fringe and vociferous group," he says in a statement that the wall, once a place of unity, has become one of "incessant quarrels." Often Women of the Wall's monthly protests end in members being detained or arrested for violating Orthodox rules, per the Times. "We must do everything to put this terrible chapter behind us," Rabinowitz adds. The decision to create the new prayer area—to be located at a spot called Robinson's Arch, will be open 24 hours a day and eventually have a "majestic entrance"—is a "revolution for women and Jewish pluralism in Israel," a Women of the Wall spokeswoman tells the Guardian. However, the Times notes, "big battles still loom" for non-Orthodox Jews, such as the demand for civil marriage. (More Western Wall stories.)

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