By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (ANS – Jan. 31, 2016) — The Israeli government has approved the creation of a new prayer space for non-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, allowing men and women to pray together.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “creative solution” that would “unify the people of Israel.”
“Orthodox Jews voted against the move but said they accepted the decision,” said the BBC. “Until now, in accordance with Orthodox beliefs, men and women have prayed separately at the Western Wall.”
The decision was welcomed by the more liberal Reform and Conservative Jewish movements in Israel and North America and the group Women of the Wall (WOW), which has long held monthly prayers – upsetting the Orthodox leaders of the site.
A founding member of WOW, Anat Hoffman, called it an “historic day.”
“We have been fighting for 27 years. We were single when we started; we are grandmothers now. And what we have done is liberate another part of the wall that will be open to all. It will be tolerant and equal and friendly,” she said.
Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rabbi of the Western Wall, said he received news of the decision “with a heavy heart and a sigh of relief”, acknowledging the Wall had gone “from being a unifying site to one of incessant quarrels.”
“The Western Wall will continue to remain open to any worshipper – man or woman – at all hours of every day, with respect and loyalty to Jewish tradition and Jewish heritage, as the Western Wall is the clear symbol of these,” he said.
The BBC stated that the new mixed-gender prayer area will be built beside the current male and female prayer sites and will be managed by a separate committee which includes representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements.
The Western Wall is a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount on which the Holy Temples is said to have once stood, and is one of the most sacred sites in Judaism. Every year, millions of Jews from all over the world visit the wall to pray.
Correspondents say the dispute over the wall became a symbol of the greater tensions in Israeli society between ultra-Orthodox Jews, who abide by a very strict interpretation of Jewish law, and more modern elements of Judaism.
Photo captions: 1) Orthodox Jews praying at the Western Wall. 2) Women gather at the Western Wall. 3) Messianic Jew, Daniel Rozen, blows the shofar at the Western Wall. 4) Dan Wooding rides a donkey in Israel.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books and has two US-based TV programs and a radio show called “Front Page Radio.” He has reported on 10 separate occasions from Israel.
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