No New Space for Women at Kotel

Women at the Kotel remain in crowded prayer space as Arab suit against expansion continues.

Contact Editor
Maayana Miskin,

Western Wall (Kotel)
Western Wall (Kotel)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Supreme Court decided Tuesday not to make a final decision regarding the expansion of the prayer space for women at the Kotel (Western Wall). The court has ordered the National Council for Planning and Construction to hold an additional hearing regarding the plan.

In the meantime, women who pray at the Kotel will be forced to use a crowded space that Kotel rabbi Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch has said is at least 50 percent too small.

The state decided years ago to replace a dangerously old bridge leading to the Mughrabi Gate, also known as the Rambam Gate, on the Temple Mount. Problems with the bridge led to less space in the women’s prayer section, leading to plans to expand the women’s prayer area while rebuilding.

However, Muslim leaders were angered by both the bridge to the Temple Mount and plans to make the prayer space bigger. Dr. Mohammed Masalaheh filed suit against the plan, arguing that it was a violation of the existing “status quo” between religious groups in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem District Court partially upheld Masalaheh’s suit, ruling that the state could replace the bridge without expanding the Jewish prayer space at the Kotel. “Expanding the space used for prayer is a complex and sensitive matter, which among other things has religious aspects,” ruled the judge, although she noted that there is no blanket prohibition on expanding prayer space at the Kotel.

Muslim prayer is not held at the Kotel or in the space that would be used for expansion, but rather on top of the Temple Mount itself, in the place considered by Judaism to be the most holy spot on earth.

The state and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation filed an appeal against the court decision. Expanding the women’s prayer section is necessary and does not affect the religious “status quo,” as the space to be expanded into is already defined as part of “the Temple Mount and the Western Wall,” they argued.

Justice Miriam Naor wrote the verdict, which explained that the Supreme Court cannot issue a ruling until the planning committee holds a new hearing, as the topic of expanding the women’s prayer section was not raised in the original hearing.