The ambitious plan, which has yet to be presented for government approval, would signal a new level of official acknowledgment of non-Orthodox forms of worship at the most sacred place where Jews can pray. But it faces obstacles, including possible objections from Israeli antiquities officials and from Muslim religious authorities who run the adjacent al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, and who consider the Western Wall to be part of that complex.
In a letter to Jewish Agency leaders, Sharansky, a former cabinet minister and Soviet dissident, wrote that “we have an historic opportunity to make the Wall a symbol of Jewish unity and diversity instead of a place of contention and strife.”
The Western Wall rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, who has called Women of the Wall members provocateurs, declared that he would not oppose Sharansky’s plan.
“In the name of unity and the desire to leave the Wall outside any debate and dispute, I will not oppose the proposal,” Rabinowitz said in a statement, noting that the proposed new prayer area “is not part of the Western Wall synagogue.”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said Women of the Wall had succeeded in making religious pluralism at the shrine a major issue of Jewish concern.
“The Wall has become an ultra-
Orthodox synagogue,” Kariv said, adding that Thursday’s arrests sent a signal that undermined Sharansky’s proposal. “You can’t make a serious attempt to reach a compromise while maintaining a situation where the rights of one side are seriously breached,” he said.
Still, Kariv predicted that if the proposal is implemented, the area set aside for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall “will become the main platform for the vast majority of Israelis and Jews.”