Leading archaeologists insistently weigh in against the Government’s Western Wall agreement

This week witnessed a new twist in the unfolding Kotel saga.

At the initiative of leading Israeli archaeologists that approached a ready and willing Knesset committee chair, a public hearing was held regarding the Kotel agreement from an archaeological perspective [LINK]. Early on, we assessed that the archaeological angle could indeed develop as a significant challenge to the implementation of the Kotel compromise [LINK].

While there is no consensus among archaeologists as to the extent of the potential damage that implementation would cause to this singularly precious historic site, among the opponents one may find some of Israel’s leading archaeologists. They come to the issue without religious malice, but at the same time express a strong rejection of the compromise, based on objective scientific and historical concerns. When such opponents turned to a typical ultra-Orthodox opponent to the compromise who does indeed bear religious malice towards both the Women of the Wall and the Reform and Conservative movements (and happens to chair the Knesset Education Committee [LINK], whose turf includes archaeological matters) there is little wonder that their plea is met with a full court welcome; and the deliberations of the committee result with a public appeal to the Reform and Conservative movements and the Women of the Wall.

Two additional interesting elements of the meeting are worth mentioning.

  1. Anat Hoffman, leader of Women of the Wall, participated in the deliberation, and she responded to the archaeologists’ plea, saying: “we never wanted this, and we said so.”
  2. While the opposing archaeologists put forth a weighty challenge to the agreement, another senior archaeologist said that he did not share the all-out assault upon the agreement, but rather pointed to the potential to maintain a proper balance between archaeological value and the current needs of worshippers, indicating that the agreement can be regarded as meeting that necessary balance.

None of this is surprising, and it indicates that there is yet a turbulent path forward, in which significant circles that come from outside the pluralism debate insistently weigh in, and they play into the hands of those who never wanted to see the site turned over to the Women of the Wall and the non-Orthodox movements. At the same time, given the impediments put in the agreement’s path, this may serve as a basis for giving greater credence to the new front opened by the non-Orthodox movements, reflecting the wishes of the Women of the Wall. Namely, moving the eye of the storm back to the traditional Western Wall plaza, rather than the Robinson’s Arch section.

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