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December 26, 2012 6:47 pm

Israeli Government Asks Sharansky to Review Western Wall Gender Policies

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Former Israeli minister and political prisoner, Natan Sharansky. Photo: wiki commons.

In light of growing concern within the progressive Jewish community in the U.S. over gender segregation at the Western Wall, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive for the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), to study the issue and suggest ways to make the site more accommodating to all Jews.

“During our conversation, the Prime Minister stressed that the Kotel must remain a source of Jewish unity, rather than of division,” Sharansky wrote in a letter to friends, which was provided by JAFI.

The movement to increase religious pluralism at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, has been pioneered by the group Women of the Wall.

In 2003, the Israeli Supreme Court ruling allowed for gender separation at the Western Wall and prohibited woman from carrying the Torah or wearing prayer shawls there.

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“It’s a good thing that after 24 years the highest echelons in Israel are actually paying attention to this rift that is breaking diaspora Jews from Israel,” said Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the Women of the Wall.

The tension between the progressive Jewish groups and Israeli authorities that oversee the Western Wall plaza also highlights a larger schism between the American and Israeli Jewish communities. In Israel, all Jewish religious life is governed by the Orthodox rabbinate, including life cycle events like marriage and death. While there have been calls to ease Orthodox control, there has yet to be full recognition of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, which dominate the American Jewish community.

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