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Issue of Mixed Prayer at Jerusalem Holy Site Returns to Forefront, Solution Opposed by Archaeologist

The struggle to establish a section at Jerusalem’s Western Wall complex has triggered one of the most bitter internecine struggles fought by Jews in Israel and abroad and has cost Prime Minister Netanyahu significant political and personal prestige. The issue was exacerbated when last year Netanyahu reached an agreement with those groups lobbying for an area in which to hold coed prayer (forbidden by strictly-religiously observant Jewish groups) but then, under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners forced the PM to renege on his promise. Netanyahu has now assumed leadership of the governmental committee seeking a solution and seemingly reached an agreement to implement a plan to expand the area known as Robinson’s Arch when one of the nation’s leading archaeologists, in fact the man who excavated the famed Western Wall tunnels and served in a leadership position in the Antiquities Authority, filed a Supreme Court petition to prevent the changes to the Arch area out of fear that it would cause irreparable damage. The issue is not an insignificant one. Control of religious aspects of life in the Jewish state by the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate is arguably one of society’s most abrasive issues. Attempts to ignore or circumvent the Rabbinate in matters of kosher food supervision and divorce are trending. The prime minister is therefore anxious to have the deal ratified before it is brought before the Supreme Court which has been known to circumvent religious aspects of cases it hears. Such a ruling could trigger a major disruption of Israeli society.

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