“Revolution for Women and Jewish Pluralism in Israel,” declared on Sunday the Women of the Wall Facebook page, announcing that the Israeli government has approved the “Mendelblit Plan for a third, pluralist prayer section at the Western Wall. In approving this plan, the state acknowledges women’s full equality and autonomy at the Kotel and the imperative of freedom of choice in Judaism in Israel.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) told Army Radio ahead of Sunday’s cabinet vote that the proposal for a new section, where men and women can pray together, is superfluous “and harms Jewish tradition which is important to all of us. The Reform from Israel and particularly from abroad are intentionally doing damage to our cherished values, and letting them into the [southern end of the] Western Wall will hurt traditional Israeli citizens.”
“The Kotel plaza has always been a unifying element for the Jewish people and the current proposal will only cause quarrels and splits,” Ariel warned. “Two years ago a plaza was prepared for the Reform, but in reality it has remained empty most of the time,” he noted, adding, “Revoking the authority of the chief rabbinate—established by the late Rav Kook—over the new site is a slippery slope that threatens the future of the relationship among different parts of the Jewish nation.”
The cabinet resolution agrees to men and women praying together on the non-Orthodox fenced platform at the southern part of the Kotel. The new plaza will be open and available 24/7. Also, the new plaza will be outside the control of the Kotel rabbi, and be governed by a new public committee.
According to Ha’aretz, the Religious Services Ministry will not provide funding for the separate plaza plan, arguing that the move would be perceived as recognition of non-Orthodox Jewish movements in Israel. The Center for Women’s Justice threatened to oppose any deal that prevented women from praying out loud as a group, and from wearing talit and tefillin in the current women’s section.