Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky is, of course, touting his proposal for traditional and egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.
“One Western Wall for one Jewish people,” Sharansky has been quoted as saying of the plan. “In this way, the Kotel will once again be a symbol of unity among the Jewish people, and not one of discord and strife.”
It’s the right goal, but we think he’s being overly optimistic. After all, the heart of the plan — designating Robinson’s Arch as a site for egalitarian worship has been proposed before, and rejected.
Even though Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the haredi rabbi of the Western Wall, appears willing to go along with the plan (“We can live with this solution,” he said), that’s no guarantee that the haredi community as a whole will embrace it.
Under Sharansky’s proposal, Robinson’s Arch, an archaeological site adjacent to the main Western Wall plaza, would be made into a permanent place of egalitarian worship equal in prominence to the existing plaza. Smaller in size, it would be renovated to accommodate worshippers.
Sharansky was in New York last week explaining the details to The New York Jewish Week and pitching the proposal to the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America.
According to The Week report, the area of the Wall dedicated to prayer would be doubled in size; the existing half would continue to be used for traditional prayer and the new half to the right, equal in length, would be used for egalitarian prayer.
Sharansky has already received some statements of support — however tacit. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told The Week the proposal represented a significant step toward “respecting and protecting the rights of non-Orthodox Jews.”
And Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, who has been arrested at the Western Wall for donning a tallit in defiance of the custom there, told the Forward the plan wasn’t “everything we were hoping for” but still “a dramatic change, and it will make history.”
We say the plan has less to do with its wording than the way it is implemented. We always knew the only solution to the discord at the Western Wall between traditional and egalitarian worshippers rested in a “separate but equal” approach. Sharansky’s proposal merely confirms that.
But we prefer to see how much money the government invests in the renovations (if it accepts the plan), how the renovations will be done and whether the security and sanctity of the expanded plaza will be equal to that of the existing site in practice as well as theory.
These are the acid tests the plan must pass before we can be sure the government is serious about respecting the right of all Jews to worship freely at the Western Wall.
Sharansky is to be commended for his efforts; he took his job seriously. But the job is far from done. We hate to say wait and see, but given all that has happened at the Wall in the past, wait and see is the proper response.