Daily Israel Report

Secular Group Decries 'Hareidi Kotel Takeover'

'Jerusalemites' group complains that the women's prayer area was reduced in size, men and women are separated in the external courtyard.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 8/14/2009, 12:53 PM

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Activist secular group 'The Jerusalemites' complains that the women's prayer area in front of the Kotel (Western Wall) was reduced in size, and that men and women are separated in the external courtyard, are signs of the 'haredization' of the Kotel. 

A local Jerusalem weekly reported Friday that the group, which is represented by one member (out of 31) on the City Council, said it was forming an action group for "returning the Kotel to the general public as part of the struggle for the character of Jerusalem.'"

The group presented its initiative as a response to what they see as a provocative article written by Tzvika Yakobson, the manager of Shas party Knesset faction, several weeks ago. In the article, which was published in the hareidi-religious newspaper "BaKehilah," Yakobson denounced the practice of holding IDF swearing-in ceremonies at the Kotel.

"We cry for Har Tzion [Mount Zion] which became barren, for the Kotel plaza which is sometimes desecrated, and about soldiers who walk through it," Yakobson wrote.

The activists claimed that signs of the hareidi Kotel takeover include the fact that the women's prayer section was cut down to half of its previous size. Hareidi members, however, say, that this was due to the removal of the Mughrabim walkway leading up to the Temple Mount and the supports for a new one placed in the women's section.

"The Kotel is turning from a national site to a hareidi one," activist Mark Stern said, "and we want to change this situation so that everyone feels comfortable going to the Kotel."

The Kotel has turned "from a public, patriotic space to the private back yard of hareidi groups," another activist said. "Evidence of this is the dramatic reduction of the Women's Court after the collapse of the Mughrabim bridge; physical separation of men and women in the external courtyard  and opposition of hareidi leaders to patriotic activities such as the swearing in of IDF soldiers."

Rabbi Responds
The Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, said in response that "the demand by a small group to turn the Kotel into a non-holy place is unacceptable. It hurts the sanctity of the place, as well as the sensitivities of those praying there and of most people who frequent the Kotel."