The Ultra-Orthodox Western Wall

This editorial at Ynetnews gives one side’s perspective on how the Western Wall prayer plaza came to be controlled by the ultra-orthodox.

Here’s a snippet:

But then, for the first time in its history, iron barricades were placed in the forward part of the plaza, close to the Kotel itself. This was the first mehitzah, the first separation between men and women, in the history of the Kotel. There had already been such attempts in the past. At the end of Turkish rule and under the British Mandate attempts had been made to separate between the sexes in the area next to the Kotel, but they failed. During most of those years when Jews had access to the Western Wall and during those years when they did not, there was never a mehitzah at the Kotel. But now a mehitzah was put up, which put aside most of the area – and the best part thereof – for the use of the men; barricades were put up to mark the entrances; and ushers were placed to assure the separation and to distribute paper kippot to those men who wished to approach the Kotel itself.
The escalation of more recent years is due particularly to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, known as the “Rabbi of the Kotel.” He did not invent anything, but he perfected the system: swearing-in ceremonies of the IDF became fewer and further between; an attempt was made to separate the sexes at the ceremony in which new immigrants received their identity cards; signs calling for modesty were posted in every corner; Israeli flags suddenly disappeared (and meanwhile were returned). Most of world Jewry is not Orthodox, but the rabbi of the holiest place in the world to the Jewish people is Orthodox – and not just ordinary Orthodox, but Haredi.

The full editorial is here.

HT: The Bible and Interpretation

Jews at Western Wall, mat08511  Jews praying at Western Wall, early 1900s
Source: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection: Jerusalem

Western Wall prayer area, db6804154111

Western Wall prayer area, April 1968
Source: Views That Have Vanished

One thought on “The Ultra-Orthodox Western Wall

  1. From Joe Lauer:

    You appropriately referred to the Ynet opinion article ("The Ultra-Orthodox Western Wall") as "giv[ing] one side’s perspective on how the Western Wall prayer plaza came to be controlled by the ultra-orthodox." Aside from the fact that the old picture that you posted does not show a mixing of the sexes, much could be written to show that the opinion article is incomplete, including testimony presented to the British Mandatory authorities in the 1930s to counter Arab attempts to deprive Jews from a place at, or rights to, the very small place then before the Wall. To keep this short, though, please note a January 18, 2010 letter to the editor of The Jerusalem Post from Cyril Atkins: "Without entering into any of the present argument about praying at the Western Wall, I would like to address the frequently mentioned fact that in Ottoman and British times, we see photos of mixed genders at the Kotel ("… and freedom to pray," Letters, January 17). The Wall before the Six Day War did not have the spacious plaza that exists today; it was a narrow passage, and room was very limited. In addition, in Ottoman and British times there were far fewer Jews than there are now. The women who came to pray were in the main fervent and very traditional. Also, the ruling authorities at the time did not permit any deviation from the status quo; a divider was not permitted to be placed between the men and women. Once, when a bench was introduced to allow people to sit, it was removed under pain of prosecution. Today, with vast numbers thronging the plaza and the Wall, different rules need to be applied." The letter is at http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1263147913790&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull

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