Although freeze of long-negotiated deal for mixed-gender prayer remains in force, government begins building enlarged space, but without key demands of liberal Jewish groups
By Amanda Borschel-Dan | The Times of Israel
Workers on Thursday began construction of a long-delayed and controversial permanent pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall, in a move that met a mixed reaction, even from the egalitarian space’s biggest proponents.
Workers could be seen erecting scaffolding next to large sacks of building supplies in the Robinson’s Arch area near the existing temporary prayer platform it is meant to replace.
The original government decision to build the pavilion dates back to January 31, 2016, when the Israeli government — spurred by decades of high-profile activism by the Women of the Wall feminist prayer group — approved the so-called Western Wall compromise. Painstakingly negotiated since 2012 with leaders of liberal Judaism and other prominent figures, this provided for the construction of a permanent pluralistic area. Other key aspects of the plan included a single entrance shared with the Orthodox sex-segregated prayer pavilion, and the establishment of a board of pluralistic Jewry to oversee the mixed-gender area.
But on June 25, 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze the 2016 compromise. While killing off the joint entrance and pluralistic governing board, however, he vowed to continue with construction of a permanent platform.