Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Israel Revisits Rules for Prayer at Holy Site Netanyahu Requests Review of Curbs on Women after Arrests

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Israel Revisits Rules for Prayer at Holy Site Netanyahu Requests Review of Curbs on Women after Arrests

Article excerpt

JERUSALEM -- Amid outrage across the Jewish diaspora over Israel's flurry of recent arrests of women seeking to pray at the Western Wall with ritual garments -- in defiance of Israeli law -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, to study the issue and suggest ways to make the site more accommodating to all Jews.

The move comes after more than two decades of civil disobedience by a group called Women of the Wall against regulations, legislation and a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that allow for gender division at the wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites, and prohibit women from carrying a Torah or wearing prayer shawls there.

Although the movement has struggled to gain traction in Israel, where the ultra-Orthodox retain great sway over public life, the issue has deepened a divide between the Jewish state and the Jewish diaspora at a time when Israel is battling international isolation over its settlement policy. Critics, particularly leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States, complain that the government's recent aggressive enforcement of restrictions at the wall has turned a national monument into an ultra-Orthodox synagogue.

"The prime minister thinks the Western Wall has to be a site that expresses the unity of the Jewish people, both inside Israel and outside the state of Israel," Ron Dermer, Mr. Netanyahu's senior adviser, said in an interview Tuesday. "He wants to preserve the unity of world Jewry. This is an important component of Israel's strength."

Mr. Sharansky, whose quasi-governmental nonprofit handles immigration for the state and is a bridge between Israel and Jews around the world, said Mr. Netanyahu had asked him Monday to take up the matter, and that he expected to have recommendations within "a few months." He and Mr. Dermer said the agenda would include improvements for Robinson's Arch, a discreet area of the wall designated for coed prayer under the court ruling, and the easing of restrictions in the larger area known as the Western Wall plaza, along with the more sensitive questions regarding prayer at the main site. …

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