Western Wall plan for mixed-gender prayer space put on hold

In a move that has angered both Conservative and Reform Jewish groups, the Israeli government suspended plans to create a mixed-gender prayer space at the country’s historic Western Wall.

In 2016, the government reached an agreement with these groups, which both have a significant amount of support outside of Israel, and feminist group Women of the Wall, to allow men and women an area to pray together at the Wall. The battle for equal rights for women at the Wall has been going on for over 25 years, appeared to have been resolved.

However, the Israeli authorities announced on Monday that those plans are now on hold. Many critics have suggested the move is a result of pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties, who are currently supporting the Netanyahu government in a coalition. Without that support, the government would collapse, meaning that Orthodox views, including gender segregation of the Western Wall, may receive preferential treatment from the authorities.

In response, the Jewish Agency, a body which liaises between Israel and the international Jewish community, has cancelled a planned gala dinner with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem later this week. Reform and Conservative groups have also spoken out publicly against the decision, with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism telling the Times of Israel: “To hear the government of Israel make a statement today that the rights of non-Orthodox Jews don’t matter is deeply distressing.”

The Western Wall is venerated as the last remains of two of Jerusalem’s historic temples. Many historic religious rites take place there, but usually within the men’s section of the Wall, as Orthodox views have held sway in Judaism for centuries.