Above: The prayer areas abutting the Western Wall
Reform Movement Demands Western Wall Gender Segregation Be Ended
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The Reform Movement in Israel is demanding that forced gender segregation at the Western Wall plaza and on buses departing from its main entrance be immediately ended.
Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the Reform Movement’s advocacy and lobbying organization in Israel, and a leader of Women of the Wall, an organization that fights to have women’s prayer groups allowed at the Western Wall, wants barriers separating men and women at the main entrance to the Western Wall plaza removed. She also wants bus passengers not be forced to board buses through different doors according to gender.
Israel’s High Court has already ruled such gender separation illegal – twice.
Despite the ruling issued last year and another ruling issued this week, ushers are enforcing gender segregation outside of the Western Wall’s prayer area and on the buses that depart from the Western Wall plaza.
The Jerusalem Post reports that it saw video footage of ushers ordering men and women to board buses through different doors by gender and enter the Western Wall plaza through different paths by gender.
The Religious Action Center sent letters to Jerusalem District Police Commander Nissan Shaham and Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, demanding that the partitions at the Wall’s main entrance near the Dung Gate be removed, the Post reported. The RAC also wants ushers employed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to enforce gender segregation be removed.
According to the Post, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation issued a statement in which it denied being a part of the forced gender segregation and in which Rabinovitch claimed that while everyone is equal, the Western Wall is not the place for political action.
“The Western Wall plaza is where we as individuals connect with our people and our heritage… I implore you, let the Kotel be as it is, a place of deep intimacy and traditional prayer as has been the custom for many generations.”
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation also wrote that there are three other entrances to the Western Wall plaza which are not separated along gender lines, and that people who don’t want to abide by the forced segregation at the main entrance can use the other ones.
One of those entrances is from the Arab Quarter and can only be reached by walking at least a half mile on foot. Another entrance is from the Temple Mount itself and is off limits to most Jews and far less accessible than the Arab Quarter entrance. The third alternate entrance is from the Jewish Quarter and necessitates using more than 100 stairs. The main entrance is the only entrance usable for physically disabled people and others who have difficulty walking or climbing stairs.
The area where gender segregation is being challenged did not have any gender segregation until recently. Before that, men and women boarded buses through the same doors and entered the expansive Western Wall plaza together. Separation only existed in the prayer areas that directly bordered the Western Wall.
Hoffman noted that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation is a “haredi-dominated organization with no representation for women, alternative Jewish groups other than the Orthodox, or for the city municipality.…The foundation abuses its authority and dictates life choices for the rest of us. The Kotel [Western Wall] belongs to all Jews, it shouldn’t be the haredi Kotel, but should be run by all of us, not just the few.”