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Jewish federations support egalitarian space at Western Wall

Group proposes elimination of separate sections for men and women

June 17, 2013

JERUSALEM

The Jewish Federations of North America announced June 3 that its trustees had passed a resolution in favor of a nonsegregated place where men and women can pray and read from the Torah at the Western Wall, the Jewish holy site.

Worshipers at the Western Wall now have two options: separate men’s and women’s sections, both under the auspices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, an Orthodox institution.

The egalitarian plan will allow the Western Wall to “become a spiritual center for all Jews and a symbol of unity for the entire Jewish community world-wide,” the federation statement said.

The plan is the result of months of negotiations between Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and the heads of the non-Orthodox movements in the U.S. and Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Sharansky to find a way to accommodate both Orthodox and non-Orthodox prayer at the wall, which operates as a de facto Orthodox synagogue.

In May, just days after a court ruled that the feminist prayer group Women of the Wall can legally pray at the wall wearing traditional prayer shawls, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews tried to stop the activists, some by throwing rocks and spitting.

The Netanyahu government responded to escalating tensions by reaching out to North American Jews.

“By issuing this resolution, the Jewish Federations are giving voice to the strong desire across our community to resolve this critical issue and ensure that all Jews can experience the most spiritually powerful place in Judaism,” Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s president and CEO, said in the statement.

The plan still faces a long road to implementation. Recently, archaeologists said the place earmarked for the egalitarian section contains ancient artifacts that cannot be disturbed.

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