Cabinet examines Kotel arrangements - 46 years ago

1970 account shows Labor Ministers opposed Kotel partition even then.

Hillel Fendel ,

Thousands at Kotel (illustration)
Thousands at Kotel (illustration)
Hadas Parush/Flash90

History seems to never get bored with repeating itself. The Ministerial Committee for Jerusalem Affairs convened in July 1970 – just three years after the Six Day War – and discussed the prayer arrangements at the Western Wall (Kotel) plaza.

It seems that the mechitzah – the partition setting off a women's section from the men's prayer area – was not to the liking of all the ministers. The now-defunct religious weekly Panim el Panim reported at the time:

Prime Minister Golda Meir took part in the meeting and said: "Many tourists come to the Western Wall, and when they see the partition, they think that this is religion in Israel and that this is Jewish life here. This wrong impression is liable to keep many Jews from coming to Israel."

She proposed setting up a place near the Kotel where men and women could pray together without a mechitzah.

Tourism Minister Moshe Kol, also of the ruling Alignment party (comprising mostly the Labor Party), agreed with Mrs. Meir, and said that he had heard of tourists complaining that they could not pray at the Western Wall with their wives.

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan – Alignment, as well – said, "We cannot ignore the fact that the Western Wall is a holy site, but this doesn't mean it should become territory of the Ministry of Religious Affairs."

The justice minister – Yaakov Shapira (Alignment) – said he had not yet approved the regulations regarding the Kotel prayer arrangements because no place had been reserved for men and women to pray together. He said that a solution must be found before the regulations would be approved.

Minister-without-Portfolio Menachem Begin – his Likud-Herut party would not win a national election until 1977; in 1970, a national unity government was in place – said that he had visited the site just before the meeting: "I saw the nice work being carried out there by the Ministry of Religions, and I saw the many people praying there, and I don't understand why some ministers want the Holy Arks to be removed from the tunnels there, which have also become prayer areas."

For background on the above, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation site states: "Immediately after the Six Day War, the Ministry of Religious Affairs began the project of exposing the entire length of the Western Wall. It was a difficult operation, which involved digging beneath residential neighborhoods that had been constructed on ancient structures from the Second Temple period and were built up against the Western Wall. Some residents [had] used underground spaces as water holes or for sewage collection. The excavations required close supervision by experts in the fields of structural engineering, securing subterranean tunnels, archaeology, and of course, Jewish Law."