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

The subject of the “Women of the Wall” group has become a controversial topic in recent weeks as the group continues to hold monthly prayers at the Kotel (Western Wall) despite opposition. Opponents have held prayer gatherings and demonstrations, and in some cases have even resorted to violence.

Now, Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett- who is also the Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs and the Minister of Religious Services – is hoping to end the conflict with a special prayer area that can contain up to 450 people. The new prayer space would be used by the Women of the Wall, while the women’s prayer section at the Kotel would be used exclusively for prayer that does not violate traditional orthodox norms.

“On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, we decided to put an end to the conflict at the remnant of our Temple,” Bennett said. “I will not let infighting among the Jewish people continue before Rosh Hashanah.”

“Our energy must be directed toward prayer, forgiveness and unity,” he continued, “as well as maintaining the status quo at the Western Wall.”

The Women of the Wall formerly had a separate prayer space, but moved to pray at the Western Wall after finding the separate space unsatisfactory.

The “new” prayer area is outside the Kotel plaza but still adjacent to the wall. It has been approved as a prayer area alone, and cannot be used for wedding or circumcision ceremonies.

The Women of the Wall prayer rallies include public Torah readings conducted by women, and female worshipers using traditionally male prayer garb such as tefillin. Both behaviors, even if technically within the bounds of halakhah (Jewish law), are normally prohibited at the women’s section of the Kotel as a violation of traditional norms, and have caused upset against some orthodox worshipers at the site.

The group has also caused upset with statements from its head, Anat Hoffman, who has declared that her goal is to "liberate" the Kotel, and ultimately to change the religious "status quo" on key issues such as marriage as well.