By Michele Chabin
Religion News Service
JERUSALEM (RNS) Jewish authorities at the Western Wall hope to replace the existing opaque partition that separates the men's and women's prayer areas with one that will enable female worshippers to see into the men's section but not vice-versa.
The move follows years of complaints by female worshippers who have been unable to see into the men's section, even during family bar mitzvahs. Currently, female relatives who want to see a bar mitzvah from the women's section must stand on plastic chairs and peer over the top of the tall barrier, called a mechitza.
Mechitzas exist in all Orthodox synagogues because Jewish law prohibits men and women from praying together. It also prohibits men from seeing women during prayer.
To help women feel more a part of the service, some synagogues have erected partitions made of one-way mirrors.
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch said he and officials from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation have been trying to find a solution for some years now. Plans to install a mechitza made of one way mirrors were dashed "when we discovered that, in direct sunlight, the one-way effect is ineffective. In the sun, both sides are visible, the rabbi said.
"We are working with international experts to find or develop the kind of glass we need," Rabinovitch said, but declined to give a timetable.
Rabinovitch told Ynet News that he is pushing the matter because of the obvious need to resolve the existing partition problem. "We, the Western Wall administration, will do whatever is needed to enable women who come ... to watch the daily celebrations, out of a genuine will to improve the visiting experience," he said.
While many Jews have hailed the foundation's efforts as creative, others have noted Rabinovitch's longstanding opposition to permitting women to don prayer shawls or read from a Torah scroll at the Wall. His position was eventually adopted by Israel's High Court of Justice.