On Friday, 26 June 2015, Kol HaIr Jerusalem Newspaper published an article by Dafna Yacobus-Rentzur under the headline: “The Western Wall: Expansion of the Mehitza Between The Women’s Section and The Men’s Section.” After the usual regurgitation of the entrenched positions of the adversaries – Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and The Holy Sites of Israel, and The Women of the Wall (WOW), a non-profit whose stated purpose is “women’s rights advocacy,” – the article goes on to focus on the newest changes at the the prayer plaza’s access areas. The article states that two months ago, at the beginning of the Hebrew Month of Iyyar, WOW violated the prayer status quo when they received into the women’s section a Torah scroll which had been registered for use by a group of men sympathetic to the group’s cause. Rabinowitz’s response according to WOW was to create a Mehitza (divider) aisle in order to prevent the transfer of Torah scrolls from the men’s section to the women’s section.
The article includes a long response from Rabinowitz’s office, the final paragraph of which provides his explanation for the urgent need for the wide, aisle-sized division between the men’s and women’s prayer areas: “Due to high security risks and attacks against worshipers at the Western Wall, the Israeli Police demanded the opening of an additional emergency exit from the men’s section to the south, as this is the only available exit direction. This pressing demand was already placed before the previous government, after carefully weighing many possibilities the best option was chosen, which though imperfect, was necessary. With full respect for the worshipers who are members of the WOW and their monthly demonstration in the women’s section, they were not the cause for the change in layout for this most sacred and sensitive site of the Jewish people. The cause for the change in layout was the police’s demands and the security of the worshipers. We are grievously saddened by these baseless accusations.”
With full respect to all parties, it seems obvious to me that since the aisle disappeared after the religious celebration for the beginning of the Hebrew month of Tammaz (17th and 18th of June 2015), the aisle’s existence for the two days of Rosh Hodesh Tammuz had nothing to do with police demands or security, this was emphasized yesterday (28.06.2015), when in addition to the usual large number of visitors, Mariah Carey’s entourage arrived at the same time as a platoon of Israel Air Force soldiers – surely this is an example of a sensitive security situation and as is clear from my photographs there was no fire aisle in sight and the urgently needed “emergency southern exit” was completely blocked.
While I am not a supporter of the provocative actions of WOW, I am grievously saddened and offended by Rabinowitz’s over-zealous posturing, flimsily dressed as security concerns in order to further strengthen Ultra-Orthodox control over the entire Western Wall area.
All photos by Isa David-Ben-Rafael, owned by IsraeLightly