Last Updated on Monday, 26 August 2013 18:16 Written by Jeusalem Post Monday, 26 August 2013 18:09
Jerusalem - Commons Minister for Jerusalem and the Diaspora Naftali Bennett has issued a call to Reform and Conservative Jews to visit the Western Wall during the High Holy Days and pray at the newly upgraded site for non-Orthodox services.
On Sunday, Bennett announced that the Robinson’s Arch area, just south of the main Western Wall plaza, had undergone a substantial upgrade. The new prayer platform that has been constructed covers approximately 450 square meters and can accommodate approximately 450 worshipers. Torah scrolls, prayer books and prayer shawls will be made available at the site which will be accessible seven days a week, 24 hours a day, The Robinson’s Arch site has been designated as a prayer area for non-Orthodox services since 1998, and a small prayer platform was constructed there in 2004.
Writing on his Facebook page Sunday night, Bennett said that the Western Wall belongs to all Jews, but noted that many people visiting the site do not feel comfortable when doing so, although he stated explicitly that he was not referring to the Women of the Wall.
“In recent years, a lot of tension has been created around the Western Wall,” wrote the minister. “A large [part] of the public - and I am specifically not referring to the ‘Women of the Wall’ but to the Jewish people as a whole - feel that it is difficult to come to the Western Wall. That they don’t connect.
“There are many [Jewish] denominations in the world, and the majority of the Jewish people in the Diaspora are not Orthodox.
“As the Minister for Diaspora Affairs, I believe that the Western Wall belongs to all the Jews in the world, not to one denomination or the other.”
Bennett said that despite criticism from WoW that Robinson’s Arch is not on an equal footing with the rest of the plaza, the upgraded site will “enable unity and peace at the Western Wall,” and concluded by inviting the public to visit it during Rosh Hashana.
Meanwhile, approximately 20 women, including the heads of WoW, participated in a 24-hour sit in at the Western Wall, which ended Monday afternoon, held in protest against the Robinson’s Arch upgrade.
WoW believe that the renovated site represents the basis of what a committee, headed by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit, will recommend as a permanent solution for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall.
A spokeswoman for WoW said that the group prayed, studied and sang during their vigil, which actually ended a couple of hours early owing to a large prayer service scheduled at the Western Wall this evening.
The group of women conducted their prayer services in the women’s section, and for the Shacharit (morning) prayers some of the women donned prayer shawls and tephillin. The shofar was also blown at the end of the Shacharit service.
Until April this year, Israeli law pertaining to holy sites as interpreted by the Supreme Court in 2003 and a Justice Ministry directive of 2005 prohibited non-Orthodox practices at the Western Wall. Consequently, members of Women of the Wall prayer groups were frequently arrested for wearing prayer shawls and tephillin and other similar practices usually conducted only be men in Orthodox Judaism.
A ruling by Judge Moshe Sobel in the Jerusalem District Court in April effectively re-interpreted the law and thereby allowed women to pray according to their own customs.
The WoW spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post that the group is concerned that with the upgrade to the Robinson’s Arch prayer area, Bennett, who also serves as Minister for Religious Services could issue new administrative regulations which would create a new legal reality and prevent the group from praying at the site according to their own traditions once again.
WoW called once again on Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni to prevent such an eventuality.