The Incredible Shrinking Women’s Section
Until a few years ago, the outdoor women’s section at the Western Wall in Jerusalem was roughly one-third the size of the men’s. The situation in terms of indoor space (so important during the rainy season and the blazing heat of summer) is even less equitable: women have a tiny room on the women’s side and a little-known narrow corridor on the men’s side that does not even reach the Western Wall, while men have a spacious indoor area at their disposal.
When I was at the Western Wall recently, I was surprised to see that the women’s section had shrunk even further:
The explanation is simple enough. Several years ago Jerusalem had a spate of heavy rain, followed by a mild earthquake. As a result, part of the slope to the right of the women’s section just below the Mughrabi Ascent crumbled, spilling earth and stones into the women’s section. For the next several years part of the women’s section was closed off, and an additional divider was placed in the men’s section, giving the women slightly more space. That temporary divider has since been removed, and now there is scaffolding to the right of the women’s section. As things now stand, the outdoor women’s section at the Western Wall is roughly one-quarter the size of the men’s section.
I wrote to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, asking for an explanation. I received the following reply from Yaakov Reichert (who did not include his title, so I cannot provide it here):
Thank you for expressing interest in what’s going on at the Kotel. As a result of the recent earthquake the Mughrabi Ascent has become dangerous. As a result of this misfortune we are now able to excavate it when we were not allowed to prior. This will allow us to expand the women's prayer area more than it had been before we started the excavations. I apologize for the temporary inconvenience it is a tight fit now.
Currently the area by Wilson's arch has been temporarily closed off as a result of renovation and preservation work which is taking place there. We are renovation the area in order to expand it which will provide more room for both men and women to pray. In addition we are working to preserve the archeology of the site.
I wrote back, asking when the work would be done, but have received no reply so far.
Anyway, the Western Wall website is fascinating, with several live-streaming webcams—one of which is at Wilson’s Arch, where the excavations are taking place.