Israel to Build Area for Men, Women to Pray Together at Wailing Wall

TEL AVIV — Men and women will soon be able to pray side-by-side at Judaism's holiest site for the first time following a historic decision by the Israeli cabinet.

The measures, passed on Sunday, will see a new plaza built where men and women can pray together at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. Two other sections will remain segregated by gender.

"For the first time ever, you will have a choice," said Anat Hoffman, director of Women of the Wall, a feminist organization that had been fighting to create a space that was open to both men and women and will form part of the body governing the new area.

The group has also fought to give women the right to wear traditional Jewish prayer shawls and pray aloud alongside men — something that authorities currently running the site have banned.

"There is more than one way of being Jewish and I hope people will vote with their feet and come to our plaza," she said.

The new plan was opposed by ultra-Orthodox authorities currently administering the site now and by religious nationalist lawmakers.

Related: Jewish Women's Group Defies Rules to Pray at Wailing Wall

Uri Ariel, a hard-line Cabinet minister from the Orthodox-leaning Jewish Home party, said advocates for the new area intended to "create conflict and dispute."

"It's not appropriate. The Western Wall is a place of unity," he told Army Radio, according to The Associated Press.

Some supporters of the new prayer area think the decision to allow side-by-side prayer is an attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to please the Jewish diaspora in the North America, which has been a key supporter of Israel and where more liberal branches of Judaism dominate.

The Jewish Federations of North America issued a joint statement with the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements, calling the decision a "dramatic, unprecedented and critical acknowledgement" by Israel that the holy site should incorporate liberal Jewish prayer traditions, the AP reported.