Western Wall countering haredi dominance?
Has public discourse on ultra-Orthodox take-over of holy site manifested in active action? Sign instructing separation between men, women in upper square removed, Israeli flags re-placed at site. Western Wall rabbi says sign mistakenly left after holidays, flags temporarily removed due to construction work
A sign instructing separation between men and women which was posted in the Western Wall's upper square was removed Tuesday by the site's employees.
The act follows claims according to which the holy site has been taken over by haredim employing strict modesty codes and led by Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz.
In addition, Israeli flags have been recently placed at the square, that have been missing in the last years. Their removal was also attributed to the ultra-Orthodox dominance at the site and was allegedly aimed to clear the Western Wall of Zionist characteristics.
The modesty sign - before and after (Photos: Guy Turjeman and Martin Weiler)
The controversial sign, which stipulates that "out of respect to the sanctity of the site, one must adhere to a complete separation between men and women," was placed several weeks ago at the upper square, which is normally intended for prayer and does not enforce separation. The step prompted the protest of religious and secular activists in Jerusalem, led by a team from the "Yerushalmim" movement, who described the move as "a haredi take-over of the Western Wall."
The movement welcomed the recent changes at the site and noted that they were made following meetings they held on the matter with leaders of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which employs Rabinovitz as the site's rabbi.
The flagpoles - before and after (Photos: Guy Assayag and Anat Mufkadi)
Rachel Azaria, a city council member on behalf of "Yerushalmim" said, "The fact that the Western Wall rabbi made these decisions and altered his previous ones of removing the flags and posting the signs proves that the public in Israel can and must speak out about the Western Wall. The Western Wall belongs to everyone."
Anat Mufkadi, who is in charge of the movement's activity on Western Wall affairs added, "We shall keep acting until we restore the status quo at the site."
Members of "Yerushalmim" have already targeted future goals: Cessation of the modesty stewardesses' work, restoring the Jewish Agency's nationalization and aliyah ceremonies and removing the partitions and cancelling the separate pathways for men and women in the upper square.
'Sign has no bearing'
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz stated in response, "We have never required separation in the upper square whenever prayers weren't held. Separation signs are placed during large prayer rallies or during events such as the priestly blessing. All signs, apart from one, which was left there by mistake, have been removed. The sign had no bearing on matters in the upper square, which anyone visiting it can see.
"So far, the elements which are trying to turn the Western Wall into disputed territory have not approached us in order to avert our attentions as to the meaning of this sign, or actual lack there of. We removed the sign once we realized it was used to misguide the public and compromise the solidarity of the Western wall for political purposes."
Referring to the flags, the rabbi noted that those had been removed due to construction work done at the site.