Natan Sharansky presented an outline of his plan to create a section for egalitarian prayer in the southern part of the Kotel (Western Wall) during a special session of the Knesset Tuesday morning.
“Every Jew in the world has a unique relationship with the Kotel,” said Sharansky, addressing the committee. “There is no other place in the world that fulfills such a role in the life, history, and identity of a nation. It is naturally in our interest for every Jew to express his or her connection as he or she sees fit. Ultimately, the solution will not come through court rulings or legislation, but rather through broad agreement between all segments of the Jewish people.”
Sharansky then detailed his plan for an egalitarian prayer area that would be equal in size to the current prayer area, open around the clock, and accessible via a single, shared entrance, along with the current men’s and women’s sections. “Every Jew will enter the Kotel area through a single entryway and will then decide whether to pray in a traditional Orthodox manner or in a non-Orthodox manner,” he said. He noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted the plan in principle.
“I had a very impressive meeting with Reform and Conservative leaders, with representatives of the Orthodox Union, of Agudath Israel, of Chabad, of Modern Orthodox organizations, in which all said they would be willing to accept this solution,” said Sharansky.
As for implementation, Sharansky noted that certain archaeological elements would have to be resolved, but suggested that construction could begin within one month, an initial stage could be completed within ten months, and the entire plan could be actualized within two years. The government has insisted on covering all costs, he said.
Members of Knesset from across the political spectrum hailed Sharansky’s plan, promising support for its implementation. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who serves as Rabbi of the Western Wall and of the Holy Sites of Israel, acknowledged that he has some reservations about the plan but said that the fact that no one is entirely satisfied by it could be an indication that it is the correct solution. Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Andrew Sacks of the Conservative Movement, and Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall all expressed support for Sharansky’s efforts.
Committee Chairwoman MK Dr. Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) summarized the discussion by reminding those in attendance that “we must never forget the Kotel’s place in the heart of the Jewish people,” and by telling Sharansky that “we are here for you and will extend any and all assistance in bringing your plan to fruition.”
“I share both the hopes and the concerns expressed today,” concluded Sharansky. “If we wish to reach a significant compromise, we will have to take unconventional steps. We must listen to one another and treat one another with respect, otherwise none of this will be possible.”