Peers in prayer: Israel may review gender inequality at holy site

American Jewish women from Florida, wearing the Talit (prayer shawl), read the Torah in front of the Western wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 15, 2012. (AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana)

American Jewish women from Florida, wearing the Talit (prayer shawl), read the Torah in front of the Western wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 15, 2012. (AFP Photo / Menahem Kahana)

Pressured by rights activists and foreign Jewish diaspora, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has asked for a review of an Orthodox-backed law which restricts the ways how women can pray at the holy site of the Western Wall.

The decision comes amid outrage from women rights activists in Israel and across the Jewish Diaspora in other countries over a flurry of recent arrests of female activists near the wall. Currently only men are allowed to wear traditional prayer shawl or read from Torah at the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, plaza.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, to study the issue and suggest ways rectify the conflict. The agency is responsible for immigration and relations with Jews abroad.

US-based organizations are among the vocal critics of the law and supporters of the Women of the Wall, the Israeli organization fighting for gender equality at the site. The move may help the Israeli government somewhat curb the global trend which is seeing Jewish communities abroad become more detached from the Jewish state and its goals.

“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,” Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s senior adviser, explained in an interview with The New York Times. “He wants to preserve the unity of world Jewry. This is an important component of Israel’s strength.”

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