The Promised Wall in the Promised Land: Updates from Israel

November 17, 2020Anat Hoffman

“So…the answer is that there is no answer.” -Esther Hayut, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, during last week’s hearing on the Western Wall Agreement

The Western Wall is at the heart of ultra-Orthodox religious coercion in Israel. In giving the keys to the Western Wall exclusively to the ultra-Orthodox, the government is actively promoting the idea that that there is only one way to be Jewish. Every day that there is no egalitarian alternative for prayer at Judaism’s holiest site, the State is further reinforcing a message to girls that they aren’t worthy of reading from the Torah at their bat mitzvahbat mitzvahבַּת מִצְוָהCeremony marking a girl's reaching the age of religious maturity; plural: b'nei mitzvah. , and to progressive Jews that their prayer is not valid or important.

When we last met in court, the government decided to freeze the agreement, but promised to follow through with the renovation of the prayer area by Robinson’s Arch on the southern Western Wall to make it a more permanent and accessible space.

Two long years have passed, and there has been no progress. The government claims that the small platform and adjacent access to the wall are available for use by the Reform and Conservative movements and Women of the Wall. However, the temporary platform is still in a state of disrepair, and there is no access to the wall itself. In addition, the area is open to Orthodox prayer groups who put up a separation barrier for gender-segregated prayer, which is explicitly against the agreement.

We will not accept the State’s false promises and unfulfilled commitments. We demand a solution that includes a complete renovation of the site so that it is safe and accessible, and that is an extension of the State-run main plaza; written policies declaring that the area is an egalitarian and pluralistic prayer space; management by the State in cooperation with the Reform and Conservative movements and Women of the Wall; and State funding to run and maintain the area.

The Supreme Court Justices hearing the case were not impressed by the State’s representative, who was unable to answer any of the Court’s questions coherently or provide legitimate reasons for why the government has not followed through with their promises for the past two years. The Court gave the State five months, until April 2021, to report on their progress in terms of the renovation, management, and funding of the site.

This has been a long, tough fight. But we are confident that we will prevail, and look forward to the day when we can all pray together at the Western Wall.

To learn more about the work of the Israel Religious Action Center, visit irac.org and subscribe to its weekly email newsletter, The Pluralist.

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