News out of Israel suggests all sides are closer than ever to an agreement allowing egalitarian worship at the Western Wall.
The Israel daily Haaretz reported Monday that Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman sent a letter to key supporters saying a special government committee has agreed to most of her conditions for an egalitarian site at Robinson’s Arch, which is near the main plaza of the Kotel — the Hebrew name for the Western Wall.
Those conditions pertain to the section’s size, appearance, management, accessibility, budget and name. In other words, Women of the Wall want Robinson’s Arch to be treated as a new and equal section of the existing Western Wall plaza — something for which the organization has fought hard.
“Women of the Wall is on the verge of finalizing an agreement with the government to move its monthly prayer service from the women’s section at the Western Wall to a new egalitarian space under construction nearby,” wrote Haaretz columnist Judy Maltz, who, by the way, is a former professor of journalism at Penn State. “The agreement follows months of negotiations between representatives of the multi-denominational women’s prayer group and a special government committee headed by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit.”
That should come as good news to American Jews, many of whom see guaranteed egalitarian worship at Judaism’s holiest site as a referendum on whether the Israeli government is yet prepared to recognize more liberal streams of Judaism alongside their Orthodox brethren. Many Americans, including some Pittsburghers, have worshipped with Women of the Wall at the Kotel.
So we’ll watch and wait for news of the deal, which according to Hoffman and Haaretz is not far off.
But even if an agreement were signed tomorrow, we still have one concern: Maltz also reported in her column, “Hoffman estimated in the letter that the final recommendations of the Mendelblit committee would be submitted for Cabinet approval ‘in a few weeks’ and that the new egalitarian space would be open for use in ‘a year or more.’ ”
So even after an agreement is in place, egalitarian worshippers must wait one more year until their place at the Wall is ready.
What happens in the meantime?
Maltz reported that the Mendelblit committee has agreed to allow Women of the Wall use of a temporary mobile partition, which may satisfy Orthodox members of the group — and there are many.
But will it satisfy security concerns? Will traditional worshippers leave Women of the Wall and their supporters alone during this year of transition? Or will they continue efforts to disrupt their services as they have in the past?
What happens if Women of the Wall make good on their promise to bring a Torah back to the Kotel. Will the government defend their right to do so?
Only time, and perhaps the final wording of the agreement, will tell.
The Western Wall should be for all Jews — those who worship traditionally, and those who don’t. We’re encouraged that the government is moving forward with this egalitarian site, but how it oversees prayer at the Wall over the next year will speak volumes about how serious it actually takes the deal. Stay tuned.