Western Wall Renovations II
Last September I posted here about The Incredible Shrinking Women’s Section at the Western Wall. Twelve days later, I received a comment from Yaakov Reichert of the Western Wall Foundation addressing my concerns. (Haloscan gets a raspberry here. They’re supposed to e-mail me all the comments I receive, and since they don’t always do that, I didn’t see Mr. Reichert’s response until today. And I’m paying for Haloscan’s services. Feh.)
Without further ado, here is most of Mr. Reichert’s response, copied from the comments section of that post:
As you described in your blog, quite well, the women’s section seems to have shrunk as a result of the work being done on the Mughrabi Ascent. Since the earth quake, which you have mentioned, it is no longer safe to be used as an ascent to the Mughrabi Gate. Currently we are working to excavate it to see what we will find underneath. As I’m sure you are aware the entire area is rich with historical treasures hidden and buried. Since we do not know what we will find it is hard to tell how long the excavations will take. We truly are sorry for the inconvenience.
Since we were concerned with the women losing space from the already crowded prayer area before we started with the excavations we expanded the section backwards. While it is hardly an alternative to having an expansive area next to the Western Wall itself it is a temporary measure while we are excavating. When we are finished we plan to return the women’s to it’s [sic] original width and depending on what we find we might be able to expand it as well.
In response to Balabusta in Blue Jeans inquiry: “Do you know if there’s a webcam that focuses on the women’s side?” The camera is not directed towards the women’s section so as not to offend the ultra religious community since they would see it as a violation of the laws of modesty.
Please feel free to write to me with any other inquiries.
All right. Where do I start?
“... the women’s section seems to have shrunk ...”
Seems to have shrunk, Mr. Reichert? No. It has shrunk. Maybe you should take a closer look at the before-and-after pictures, and speak to some of the women who go there. I have, and they’re not any happier about it than I am.
“As I’m sure you are aware the entire area is rich with historical treasures hidden and buried. Since we do not know what we will find it is hard to tell how long the excavations will take. We truly are sorry for the inconvenience.”
Well, I suppose it’s nice that you regret the inconvenience. And truly, I do understand how important it is to excavate the area. Nevertheless, why must the women be the only ones to bear the burden of the changes at the site? Why can’t the men shoulder some of it so that the women’s area won’t be so terribly cramped? And by the way, whatever happened to the temporary mehitza that was placed in the men’s section in order to give the women more room? Who had it removed, and why?
“Since we were concerned with the women losing space from the already crowded prayer area before we started with the excavations we expanded the section backwards.”
Yes, and that was a pretty backward move. See above.
“When we are finished we plan to return the women’s to it’s [sic] original width and depending on what we find we might be able to expand it as well.”
So when all this is done, the women who come to pray at the Western Wall will have the same amount of space they had before—still substantially less than the men’s area—along with a vague assurance of more space, if possible. Come on, Mr. Reichert. Talk is cheap. If you are really interested in making room for women at the Western Wall, move the mehitza.
Last, but not least: “In response to Balabusta in Blue Jeans inquiry: ‘Do you know if there’s a webcam that focuses on the women’s side?’ The camera is not directed towards the women’s section so as not to offend the ultra religious community since they would see it as a violation of the laws of modesty.”
Mr. Reichert, members of the ultra-religious community are by far not the only ones who visit the site. In fact, many of them are not even permitted Internet access according to their own religious principles. So surely you can accommodate those of us for whom the sight of a woman is harmless and inoffensive. How can you allow one sector of the Jewish community to control what the rest of us see? By the way, I just saw the pitch for donations on the camera page. Why should I donate to your effort if it crowds women out both visually and spatially?
Here’s an idea: how about putting in another camera just for the women’s section, with its own separate link? I can’t think that would offend even the strictest sensibilities, since those who wish to avoid it may do so. In any case, it’s a pretty safe bet that people of whatever stripe who have Internet access and want to see racy images of women will not be using the Western Wall cameras for that purpose.
Also, since when does the Jewish concept of modesty dictate that no image of a woman, however modestly dressed, must ever be shown or seen? Such a narrow and restrictive interpretation of modesty is more characteristic of Saudi Arabia or Iran than of Jewish religious law. I’m thinking of those awful capes again. True, they’re not quite burkas, but the direction in which things are going at the Western Wall is depressing. And disappointing. And scary.
Isn’t the Western Wall supposed to belong to all Jews?
The contact address for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation is (contact_english [at] thekotel [dot] org). (Omit all spaces, brackets and parentheses, and use a real “at” sign and dot.)