Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Close, but Not Quite

I just saw this article in the Jerusalem Post: Damaged Kotel Ramp to Be Removed.

After a two-and-a-half-year delay, a three-decades-old wobbly ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate adjacent to the Western Wall which has long been unsafe by city engineers will be removed soon, enabling the shortened women’s section of the Wall to return to its natural size, officials said Wednesday.
The stone ramp, which was built after the Six Day War in 1967, and served as the point of entry for non-Muslim visitors entering the Temple Mount, was badly damaged during an earthquake that rattled that region two years ago and by inclement wintry weather, archeologists said.
Heavy rains during the winter of 2004 caused a partial collapse of the ramp onto the women’s section at the Wall.
After being deemed unsafe by city engineers, the strategically-placed ramp was blocked off and a new bridge was built next to it, which is currently used as the main non-Muslim entryway to the Temple Mount.
After a section of the pathway collapsed, the area of the Wall allotted for women's prayer closest to the rampart has been cornered off due to the danger it posed to worshippers, severely reducing the women’s section of the wall.
With the planned removal of the rampart now said to be imminent, the section of the wall allotted for women’s prayer is expected to shortly return to its natural size.
“There’s no reason that in the most sacred site for the Jewish people, the men will have a big comfortable plaza while the women will have to be cramped and crowded,” Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said, who has supported restoring the women’s section of the wall to its natural size.

“Natural size”? Just what does that mean? The size of the women’s section at the Western Wall is determined by human beings (specifically, by men), not by some vague force of nature.

I have a challenge for Mayor Lupoliansky and the authorities in charge of the Western Wall: If you truly want the women to have a comfortable prayer area and not be “cramped and crowded,” then move the mehitza. Make the men’s and women’s prayer sections the same size, indoors as well as outdoors.

Talk is cheap, Mayor Lupoliansky and Rabbi Rabinowitz. As long as you keep the women’s section roughly one-third the size of the men’s, your words mean nothing. As long as you reserve nearly all the indoor space for the men and allow the women next to none of it—especially during Israel’s long, hot summers and beneath its broiling sun, which turns the Western Wall into the equivalent of a stone oven—then all your words are worthless, and you are endangering lives as well.

Prove that you mean what you say, Mayor Lupoliansky. Move the mehitza or, if you cannot, then ask those responsible to do so, putting the full weight of your position as mayor of Jerusalem behind your request. Provide equal space to men and women, indoors and out. There can be no justification in either halakha or Israeli civil law to allow the current inequity to go on.

(See my previous posts on the spatial inequities at the Western Wall: Western Wall Renovations I, Western Wall Renovations II and The Incredible Shrinking Women’s Section.)

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