The Jan. 31 decision by the Israeli government to approve a site adjacent to Jerusalem’s Western Wall plaza for mixed-gender prayer was generally hailed as a successful compromise to a religious conflict between liberal Jews and Israel’s Orthodox community that has been going on since 1988, but now Israeli archaeologists are warning the necessary construction threatens “the most important archaeological site for the Jewish people.”
The plan calls for for construction of an elevated plaza south of the current prayer plaza and adjacent to Robinson’s arch. It would be separated from the Western Wall prayer site, where men and women pray separately, by the Mughrabi Bridge, the ramp providing access to the Temple Mount from the Old City.
“I know this is a sensitive topic, but I think it is an appropriate solution, a creative solution,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting where the plan was approved. “The most complex problems usually require such solutions.”
The construction has already been approved by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the group that is responsible for archaeological concerns.
In a letter, nine senior archaeologists urged Netanyahu to abandon plans for construction of the elevated plaza that would sit over excavated remains of the Temple’s destruction in A.D. 70, the Times of Israel reported.
Among those signing the protest letter were Dan Bahat, who excavated the Western Wall tunnels; Ronny Reich, head of the Archaeological Council of Israel who exposed part of the paved road beneath Robinson’s Arch; Jerusalem Prize winner Gabriel Barkay, who directs the Temple Mount Sifting Project; and Israel Prize laureate Amihai Mazar.
The Western Wall is the holiest site for Jews where they may pray freely. Neither the Muslim Waqf nor the Israeli government allows Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.
Dr. Eilat Mazar, of Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, earlier told the Jerusalem Post having the mixed-gender location function as both a prayer and archaeological site at the same time “doesn’t work.”
“This is the most important archaeological site of the Second Temple period, which best expresses the destruction of Jerusalem and the life that existed after that point,” the archaeologist said by phone.
“It’s the only place you can see the huge stones that fell from the Western Wall when the Romans destroyed the Temple Mount – the only evidence to show the destruction. There is no other place that does this, period.”
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Previously, WND has reported on threats to the physical integrity of the Temple Mount from Muslim excavations on the holy site, some of which exposed features going back to the time of Jesus.
The archaeologists’ objections are not the only ones.
The plan has drawn fire from ultra-Orthodox groups as well as the feminist group Women of the Wall.
“There’s no God over here, God is around the corner, where the Haredim are davening,” Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the organization told journalists when criticizing the mixed-prayer site’s segregated location. Her group has characterized it as the “back of the bus.”
The conflict, which may or may not yet be resolved, goes back to 1988 when a group of about 70 Jewish women from the major streams of Judaism – some wearing prayer shaws or kippahs and one carrying a Torah – entered the Western Wall prayer plaza and began praying out loud … all forbidden by the ultra-Orthodox who govern the Wall.
The Palestinian minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs is also objecting to the mixed-gender site, warning that Israel would use expansion of the non-Orthodox section to carry out archaeological digs and “Judaicize the holy site,” reported Christian Today. In 2015, the Palestinian Authority tried unsuccessfully to have the Western Wall recognized as a Muslim holy site.