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Court Ruling Makes Sharansky Kotel Plan Moot

The problem is that the problems will likely continue

Adam Chandler
April 30, 2013
Western Wall(Wikimedia)
Western Wall(Wikimedia)

As we noted last week, a Jerusalem district court decision, which ruled that the five female worshippers arrested during a Rosh Hodesh service at the Western Wall earlier this month should not have been arrested, appeared to give the Women of the Wall the legal protection they have been seeking after many, many years. (Today on Tablet, Elliott Horowitz deftly outlines how some calls to desegregate the Kotel have their roots in the 19th century.)

It has also rendered moot the Natan Sharansky plan, which would provide for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall. As Ben Sales explained:

The plan would expand the egalitarian section of the Western Wall Plaza – called Robinson’s Arch – and create a unified entrance to the Wall’s traditional and egalitarian sections. It was meant as a compromise between haredi Orthodox leaders who wanted to maintain exclusive control of the Western Wall, and religious pluralism activists who wanted the site opened to egalitarian prayer.

(For a thorough look at the arguments on both sides, Rabbi David Wolpe wrote a stellar piece about the controversy earlier this year for Tablet.)

The Sharansky plan was initially accepted, you know, in the way one imagines any compromise on a religious issue might go: Shmuel Rabinowitz, the so-called Western Wall rabbi, said he could live with it while Anat Hoffman of the Women of the Wall also tenuously agreed. Rabinowitz went to America, where he met with American Orthodox leaders who seemingly convinced him to take a harder line against the plan while a Jerusalem district court made its landmark decision, leaving Hoffman to say the plan is “not relevant.”

Support for the Sharansky plan having evaporated, what goes with it, perhaps, is the whiff of leverage that had the potential to get both sides to come together as the controversy gained momentum over the past few months. Agreements on this issue had seemed highly unlikely, but the Sharansky plan was an example of one that could have gone forward.

But the issue isn’t settled now. One scenario is that a higher court could overturn the district ruling that offers female worshippers protection. Another complicating factor could be next month’s Rosh Hodesh service that plans to incorporate women reading from the Torah at the Western Wall for the first time in a decade. These are rights that should be protected, but history has not shown that all of Jewish Jerusalem agrees with that.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.