“There are people with hearts of stone and stones with hearts of people”
Yossi Gamzo, “HaKotel”
The Western Wall Belongs to us all!
The Western Wall, the holiest site for the Jewish people, is run as an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. This is a reflection of the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on all aspects of Jewish life and identity in Israel. The fact that ultra-Orthodoxy is the only Judaism permitted at the Western Wall is unacceptable.
The Israeli government decided to create a large, respectable, and accessible egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall, but the decision was frozen before taking any steps towards its implementation. Now, the government has the opportunity to fulfill its promises to allow all Jews a place to worship at Judaism’s holiest site.
Reinstating the Western Wall Agreement will show that Israel is committed to taking the necessary steps to improve Israel-Diaspora relations, and will demonstrate that the State of Israel recognizes that there is more than one way to be Jewish.
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The Western Wall Agreement – Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Western Wall Agreement?
The Western Wall Agreement (also known as the Western Wall Compromise) is an agreement decided upon in January 2016 regarding prayer arrangements at the Western Wall. The Agreement was put together by Adv. Avichai Mandelblit (then Cabinet Secretary), which also included Adv. Dina Zilber and Adv. Tzvi Hauser. It was approved by the Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu on January 31, 2016, following three grueling years of negotiations, which were initiated by PM Netanyahu and the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Nathan Sharansky. The negotiations included representatives of the Reform Movement, the Conservative Movement, Women of the Wall, the Rabbi in charge of the Western Wall, and the Chief Rabbis.
The agreement was approved by the government with an overwhelming majority of 15 ministers voting for and only five against. The ultra-Orthodox parties did not vote for the agreement, but they also did not veto its passing.
What does the Western Wall Agreement include?
The agreement includes several components which aim to create one Western Wall with two prayer plazas – one that is segregated by gender, and one that is egalitarian. The agreement would:
Creating a joint entrance to the Western Wall that will allow access to both the gender segregated plaza and the egalitarian plaza.
Constructing a large and respectable egalitarian plaza (in Hebrew Ezrat Yisrael) near Robinson’s Arch, that will be visible and accessible from the existing Western Wall plaza.
Clearly stating in regulations that the egalitarian plaza is a part of the Western Wall, and that prayer customs at the egalitarian plaza will be according to the principles of gender equality and pluralism (with Women of the Wall being allowed separate women’s prayer space, once a month, on Rosh Chodesh).
The egalitarian plaza will be managed by a public council, headed by the Chair of the Jewish Agency, which will include representatives from the Reform and Conservative movements and Women of the Wall, to be appointed by the Prime Minister, in order to represent the groups who will use the egalitarian plaza.
Government funds will be allocated for maintenance of the egalitarian plaza, and for publicizing its existence.
What happened after the government approved the agreement?
After the government approved the agreement, and despite the silent agreement of ultra-Orthodox politicians, ultra-Orthodox media began attacking the Western Wall Agreement. As a result, the agreement was frozen by the government in June 2017 and has been frozen ever since.
What is the current situation at the Western Wall?
Today, the Western Wall’s main plaza is segregated by gender (with the women’s section being four times smaller than the men’s section!). All those who pray in a non-Orthodox manner are met with harassment and violence, with backing from Western Wall Heritage Foundation ushers.
Outside of the main Western Wall area there is Ezrat Yisrael – the temporary egalitarian plaza, erected in 2013 by Naftali Bennet (at the time Minister of Diaspora Affairs). However, the area does not constitute an acceptable alternative to the main Western Wall plaza:
The entrance is hidden and easy to miss. In contrast to the substantial funding allocated for publicizing the main Western Wall plaza, the egalitarian plaza is unpublicized and thus most people are unaware of its existence.
There has been no direct access to the actual stones of the Western Wall from egalitarian plaza since summer 2018 when a stone fell from the top of the wall.
There are no clear rules regarding what is allowed and prohibited at the egalitarian plaza. Often, ultra-Orthodox groups erect barriers to segregate by gender, in order to prevent egalitarian prayer and the celebration of egalitarian bar/bat mitzvahs.
The State of Israel does not allocate funds for maintenance of the egalitarian plaza, which is operated by the Conservative Movement. This is in contrast to the tens of millions of shekels allocated each year to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation for upkeep of the main Western Wall plaza.
What is happening now?
We now have the extraordinary opportunity to see the implementation of the Western Wall Agreement. There are no ultra-Orthodox political parties in the government coalition to stop the agreement's implementation, and coalition leaders including Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Merav Michaeli, and Avigdor Lieberman, have declared their support for the implementation of the Western Wall Agreement. The issue was even included in the coalition agreement as part of the demands of political parties Yisrael Beitenu, Labor, and Yesh Atid.
Nonetheless, Prime Minister Naftali Bennet has not yet declared his intentions to move forward with the Western Wall Agreement.
The time has come to demand its implementation! The Western Wall belongs to us all!