Work Begins on Pluralistic Prayer Pavilion at Kosel

Tefillah at the Kosel, December 7, 2017. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

The Israeli government began on Monday to implement a promised upgrade of the pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Kosel, to appease the Reform and Conservative movements and Women of the Wall.

Scaffolding went up on Monday near Robinson’s Arch area near the existing temporary platform, preliminary to the construction of a permanent one.

The work represents the implementation of a cabinet decision. “In June 2017, the Prime Minister ordered construction to be expedited of the new plaza. What we are seeing now is the implementation of that order,” an official at the Prime Minister’s Office said on Monday.

If the upgrade proceeds as planned, it will greatly enlarge the existing prayer deck which was set up there in 2000.

It offers the heterodox groups something more than they have had, but much less than they sought. They receive an upgraded area, but are being denied the right to share the main entrance to the Kosel plaza with the Orthodox community, nor will they have a board of pluralistic Jewry with independent funding to oversee the mixed-gender area.

As such, it elicited mixed reactions.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values and Executive Vice President Emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel, told Hamodia on Monday that “this new development is indeed unfortunate. It is a chilul Hashem.

“The government is expanding an area that, as it is, is rarely used and never full. And, they are making these changes into a ‘permanent’ structure.”

He warned that this will not put an end to the years of agitation. “The liberal movements will never be satisfied; they are not looking for more space, they are looking for official recognition.

“I can only wonder — had the American Torah community challenged the American liberal movements and their activities regarding the Kotel years ago, could we have prevented this permanent pluralistic prayer pavilion from being built at the Western Wall?

“The liberal American movements are challenging many other Jewish traditions in Israel — kashrus, conversion, Shabbos, and much more. We need to be vocal and active against them so we don’t wake up one morning and discover new changes,” said Rabbi Lerner.

Leah Aharoni, spokeswoman for the Orthodox Women for the Wall, said on Monday that “ever since the Israeli government erected the egalitarian plaza, and despite an upgrade in 2013, it has seen hardly any use. The same will continue to happen as the overwhelming majority of Am Ysrael continues to choose the main plaza and daven in accordance with the halachah and the mesorah.

“Despite the decades-long rabbinic consensus that the Western Wall is holy along its entire length, the Supreme Court justices indicated at the last hearing that as far as they are concerned, the heterodox movements and Women of the Wall have no rights at the traditional plaza as long as there is an alternative player location for them.

“The new construction is the latest attempt to appease the heterodox movements. Unfortunately, based on their track record, it will not bring peace to the Kotel,” she concluded.

Indeed, a comment from Women of the Wall indicated just that. The group told The Times of Israel on Monday, “Our only statement is that we’re waiting for the High Court’s decision.”

Petitions on a variety of issues relating to the use of the Kosel by heterodox prayer groups are still pending.

The Reform Movement wasn’t happy either.

“The state has started work on the section without coordination and without informing us what will be built. We only found out about the construction by chance,” a Reform spokesperson told the Times of Israel.