The triumph of women: A mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall


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Members of activist group “Women of the Wall” speak to the media near Jerusalem’s Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City January31, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

JERUSALEM – Last 31st January, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, signed a historical agreement which will allow women and men to pray together at the Western Wall.

According to Al Jazeera, the government plan considers the building of a new plaza for mixed gender prayer at the Western Wall, adjacent to the Orthodox prayer plaza but separate from it. The construction of the new plaza will cost a total amount of $9 million. The measure is added to the one taken by a judge of the Jerusalem District Court in 2013, which declared that the police cannot arrest women for their activities at the holy site. After this sentence, a new prayer space reserved for women was created at the Western Wall.

Netanyahu had to tackle with the other members of the Israeli Government who did not have a propensity for the approval of this memorable agreement. Nevertheless, he succeeded in convince everybody on the necessity of this deal. “I know this is a sensitive topic, but I think it is an appropriate solution, a creative solution”, Netanyahu said at the start of Cabinet meeting.

This agreement is a huge step forward in the fight for gender equality in this country. In Israel, as in many Middle East countries, women do not have the same rights as men have. In religion events, gender inequality is even worse. In fact, women are not allowed to sing from the Torah or wear some specific clothes as the white prayer shawls or the black leather tefillin straps due to the fact that these religious acts are exclusive for Jewish men.

The recognition of these rights is the principal aim of Women of the Wall, an Israeli feminist organization which fosters a major presence of women in religious and social events. Founded in 1988, this organization has fought to attain the same right to pray and follow religion freely as Jewish men at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, for 27 years.

“It stands to open the floodgates of women’s rights in the public sphere in Israel […] and opens the floodgates for Jewish pluralism in Israel”, said Shira Pruce of Women of the Wall. “This is unprecedented change”, she added.

The project for the building of the third space at the Kotel, the Hebrew name of the Western Wall, seemed to progress. However, last March Netanyahu unexpectedly issued the following statement: “Since January decision, several difficulties have arisen. We are working to resolve them. I would like to reiterate my commitment to resolve the issue of prayer arrangements at the Western Wall in the aforesaid direction”. In other words, the issue has reached deadlock and it is impossible to know when the situation will improve, even if the Israeli Prime Minister promised to resolve it within 60 days.

In conclusion, we have to wait in order to know in what way Netanyahu and his Cabinet will deal with the situation and will decide how to put into effect January’s agreement. Meanwhile, Women of the Wall continue to fight for their rights hoping that one day gender equality will come true.

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