The New Kotel Plan: Great platform, but No Wall

August 24, 2013

The Israeli government has a new plan for the Western Wall. The good news: within the government there’s a lot of support for it. The bad news: the Kotel wars are going to continue. The plan, in short, is this:

  • A new platform will serve non-Orthodox prayer. It will have room for a few hundred people – possibly around 300 – and will include an ark with a Torah scroll.
  • In this new area the rabbi of the Kotel will have no say.
  • It will be easy to access the platform. It will be opened 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And there will be drinking water.
  • It’s location: on the “other side” of the Mugrabi Gate, at the area known as the Robinson Arch.
  • The ramp will not be tied to the Wall. In other words: the people praying there will see the Wall but will not be able to touch it.

I’m told that Conservative leaders tend to support this compromise. It is better than nothing and can be expanded in the future if the public shows interest. According to the people who believe that this arrangement is worthy of consideration, the project has its lure: make it good, make it attractive, demonstrate its value, and someday we’ll make it better.

I’m also told that Reform leaders are likely to oppose it, and that it’s unlikely that the leaders of Women of the Wall will embrace it. While I’d very much like to see a compromise at the Kotel and see an arrangement that works for everybody, it is hard for me to see how the government can win over the opponents with this plan.

The government has some good points to make in favor of its plan: building closer to the Wall can be problematic in the current political environment in the Middle East, and it’s problematic to build a platform close to the Wall without harming the archeological site. The government can also say that it has acted promptly and showed seriousness since Natan Sharansky presented his plan for the Kotel. It can say that even after the many adjustments to the plan, what’s being proposed with this plan is a breakthrough in its relations towards non-Orthodox practice.

Yet, it’s hard to see how the government wins this case when all the opponents need to do is repeat a simple message: we would not be able to touch the Kotel, we are getting a place, but not a place by the Kotel. Close by? Yes. Kotel? Not really.

The bottom line will be this: the Kotel wars are going to continue. WOW will keep coming back to the “real” plaza, and the court will be asked (possibly by the government too) to reexamine the situation. The campaign that’s been going on in the last couple of weeks to get a hundred American rabbis to talk about the Western Wall in their High Holyday sermons is going to succeed. And the sermons – well, most of them – aren’t likely to be favorable to the plan.

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