Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that a law prohibiting women wearing ritual garments from praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem will be reviewed, after a series of arrests last week sparked an outcry.
"The prime minister thinks the Western Wall has to be a site that expresses the unity of the Jewish people, both inside Israel and outside the state of Israel," said Ron Dermer, Netanyahu's senior adviser, according to The New York Times. "He wants to preserve the unity of world Jewry. This is an important component of Israel's strength."
A group of Israeli women called Women of the Wall have been protesting against a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court decision that prohibited women from carrying a Torah or wearing prayer shawls at the site, a right which is traditionally reserved for men.
Also known as the Wailing Wall, the structure stands at the western side of the iconic Temple Mount, a holy site for both Muslims and Jews. It is believed to have been erected around 19 B.C. at the time of Herod the Great, and has been the site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage for many centuries.
Groups like Women of the Wall have insisted that the holy site belongs to all Jewish people regardless of gender, and they say they defend the rights of women who take up pilgrimages to pray at the Western Wall. A number of arrests by police officers apprehending women dressed in shawls in the past few months, however, have sparked an international outcry.
"How can you say this to me?" Bonna Devora Haberman, 52, one of the founders of Women of the Wall in 1988, asked police when she was blocked from praying at the Wall. "I'm a Jew. This is my state."
Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, who handles immigration for the state and relations between Israel and Jewish people around the world, said that the prime minister asked him on Monday to start reviewing the law and suggest compromises that could make the Western Wall more accessible for women.
"I imagine very easily a situation where everybody will have their opportunity to express their solidarity with Judaism and the Jewish people and the state of Israel in a way he or she wants, without undermining the other," Sharansky shared of his hopes.
Some, however, like the Orthodox Western Wall Heritage Fund who work to preserve Jewish traditions, claimed that the women protesting and being arrested are not native Israelis, and this is more about attention seeking than women's or religious rights.
"They don't come here to pray, they want to protest. They hurt us, the Jewish people, by distorting the truth," the organization has said.
"It's a good thing that after 24 years the highest echelons in Israel are actually paying attention to this rift that is breaking diaspora Jews from Israel," Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, said in reaction to news that the law might be reviewed. "The table that should run the Western Wall should have everyone who has an interest in the wall sitting around it."