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January 15, 2018 1:47 pm

Groups Petition Israeli High Court for Expanded Western Wall Egalitarian Prayer Section

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The Israeli flag at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Photo: Hynek Moravec via Wikimedia Commons. – The Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, and the Women of the Wall prayer rights group brought a petition to Israel’s High Court of Justice in an effort to force the expansion of the existing egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

The petitioners are requesting that the court overrule last summer’s decision by Israel’s governing coalition to freeze the implementation of a plan that would change the access point to the existing egalitarian section, as well as transfer administration of the egalitarian section to a council of Conservative and Reform rabbis. The petitioners are also requesting that Torah scrolls and prayer shawls typically used by men be allowed into the holy site’s women-only section. Currently, the entire Western Wall prayer complex, including the egalitarian section, is under Orthodox administration.

The egalitarian section’s access point is currently located just outside the perimeter of the gender-separated prayer plaza. The government did not agree to move the access point adjacent to the entrance to the current women-only prayer section, but agreed to implement part of the plan that would increase the size of the mixed-gender section. The mixed section gets little use compared to the more popular gender-separated sections.

The Western Wall prayer issue has become a major point of contention between the Israeli government and Diaspora Jewry, particularly North America’s large Reform and Conservative communities. The issue is less controversial for Israeli Jews, who often identify with Orthodox traditions when participating in religious rituals regardless of the broader nature of their Jewish observance.

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