A new platform at the Western Wall intended for mixed-gender prayer has sparked objections from egalitarian groups. Critics say it favors a separatist solution to the ongoing debate over what prayer rights women should enjoy at one of Judaism's most sacred sites.
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Israel's religious services minister, Naftali Bennett, revealed the temporary 4,800 square-foot platform on Sunday at Robinson's Arch, a site adjacent to the Wall.
“This new platform, built ahead of Rosh Hashanah, will help unify the Jewish people and enable all Jews to pray freely at the Kotel,” Bennett said, according to the outlet.
But progressives say the new plan doesn't go nearly far enough in resolving the long-standing dispute with the Ultra-orthodox Jews who govern the Wall and want certain prayer practices reserved for men.
Women of the Wall, a feminist group that has been fighting to earn women the right to wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah at the holy site, made the case that women deserve to pray as equals at the Wall, not a place that's near it.
"There's no God over here, God is around the corner, where the Haredim are davening," Anat Hoffman, chair of the organization, told journalists on Sunday, according to the Jewish Press.
The group went on to argue website that the current solution relegates 50 percent of the population to the "back of the bus."
"The stage is in no way equal topographically or geographically to the original plaza, no[r] does it come close to the Wall itself, as it stands to the back of the Robinson’s Arch area. This plan is the very definition of separate, and not nearly close to equal, it provides an out of sight- out of mind solution silencing women at the Western Wall" the group wrote in a statement on its website.
Members of the group went on to stage a 24-hour sit-in to protest the platform.
This past spring, Women of the Wall won a court order that allows them to wear prayer shawls at the Wall. But in the months that have followed, the women have faced protests, and in some cases violence, from Ultra-orthodox worshippers as they've prayed.