On July 25th, 2022, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a letter banning mechitzot, ritual partitions between men and women, from the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, and instructing the police to enforce the ban. The letter, authored by Drorit Steinmetz, chairperson of the office’s Steering Committee, came against the backdrop of repeated disruptions by Orthodox extremists, including at times setting up mechitzot for Orthodox prayer, despite the fact that the small plaza has been designated for egalitarian prayer.
The letter, addressed to the CEO of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, reads as follows:
Subject: Ban on Bringing Partitions into “Ezrat Yisrael”
Pursuant to the discussion of the Steering Committee on October 28th, 2022 (error in the original – JPW), and to the e-mail which I sent you on April 4th, 2022, I ask to clarify that at the entrance to the site, partitions should not be allowed to be brought into the prayer plaza.
That being said, I again refer you to the letter of the Ministry of Justice from October 15th, 2020, and I would like to stress that in accordance with the Ministry of Justice’s opinion, the ushers do not have the authority to use force to prevent bringing in partitions. If the use of force is necessary, the Israel Police should be involved in order to handle the issue, as per its authority.
Israeli politicians were quick to voice their reactions.
Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai (Labor):
We will not allow them to trample the right to egalitarian and mixed prayer at the Western Wall.
The Prime Minister’s Office did well by banning mechitzot from the “Ezrat Yisrael” plaza. Ahead of Tisha B’Av and the upcoming holidays, we must ensure freedom of religion, including for those who pray in a mixed prayer setting, free of threats and attempts at violence by various actors.
MK Itamar Ben Gvir (Religious Zionism):
The Western Wall does not belong to the Reform but rather to the entire Jewish people, women, men, religious, and secular, all of whom respect the Western Wall, unlike the Reform. These elections are between those who want Jewish identity and those who want a state for all its citizens and the undermining of the Jewish tradition. This outrageous decision by Lapid is a small sample of what could happen if, God forbid, he were to be elected as Prime Minister.
MK Moshe Tur-Paz (Yesh Atid):
Ezrat Yisrael at the Western Wall serves as a prayer space for Diaspora Jews from the Reform and Conservative movements.
I congratulate PM Lapid on the decision that will respect the separate plazas, that will reduce confrontations at this holy site, and that will allow every Jew to pray in his own way.
MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism):
The fact that Yair Lapid allows himself to declare that partitions are not allowed for people who wish to pray separately in the southern area of the Western Wall shows that his intentions have not changed, and his entire aim is to harm the holy sites of Israel.
MK Avi Maoz (Religious Zionism):
In violation of Jewish law, in violation of tradition, in violation of the law, Lapid again makes a mockery of the holiest sites of Israel.
The Reform Movement has already revealed that the Western Wall only serves as their means in the struggle to change the Jewish character of the state. Lapid and Liberman are implementing the Reform vision. We will soon come and fix it.
After a group of extremists planned to conduct a service in protest of the decision with a partition between men and women, and then canceled the service due to information about so-called “provocations,” MK Alon Tal (Blue and White) tweeted:
Extremist groups come to a tiny site meant for Jews from Israel and the Diaspora (the plurality of Jews in the world, I remind you) who chose to pray in an egalitarian manner, and attempt to prevent them from doing so by bullying them.
They steal the poor man’s lamb and complain about provocations.