Take Back the Kotel Part II: Open Up Robinson’s Arch by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Take Back the Kotel Part II: Give Us Robinson’s Arch!

We’ve talked about problems at the Kotel before, and the incident of a woman putting a tallit on and being arrested – or “detained” – for that mitzvah has certainly raised awareness that something has to be done.  Rabbi Helbraun, a Reform rabbi in Northbrook, IL, put it well when he asked Effy Eitam how they could explain to the children of their shul that while they encourage boys and girls to put on tallitot and t’fillin – in this Reform shul! – they need to know that they can be arrested for doing so in the Jewish state!  But I want to suggest an easy solution to the issues at the Kotel: Open up the Robinson’s Arch area of the Kotel for free to all who want to pray there, celebrate there, even just to meditate there.

Robinson’s Arch is a dramatic part of the Western Wall – actually the southern part of the Kotel Hama’aravi – as opposed to the “other” wall area, the Western Wall plaza, which is the south-central part of the Kotel Hama’aravi.  It was excavated since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, and I remember they were working on it forever in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Now it is part of the Davidson Center – a museum that charges money for entry, unless special arrangements are made.  I am not asking for free admission to the wonderful exhibits underground that are uniquely part of the this museum.  What I am calling for is for free, 24 hour access by anyone who wants, to the above ground parts of the Wall.  It is our national heritage, and we should not be denied access.  We have a right to the Western wall and the Southern wall which the area includes as well.

Sources tell me that the Masorati movement, the Conservative movement in Israel, has rights to it – I’m not sure, but that’s what I’ve heard from a few sources.  Maybe the Israel antiquities authority has some control over it.  However, to the best of my knowledge the Rabbinate or Religious authority of the Kotel does NOT have control over it.  That’s why now, people can have B’nai Mitzvas there however they daven, and women can read Torah there.  But that is only in limited ways, and I have heard that you can’t bring tables or chairs there – everything that makes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in the main part of the Kotel – to the north – feasible and more substantial.  And if a group of Reform tourists or from the local Reform shul – Kol Haneshama – ended up there on Shabbat after a stroll around the walls on Shabbat, they couldn’t just go in and daven.  In fact, I don’t know if you can go in at all on Shabbat morning!  I am calling not for freedom at the “old” Western Wall; I am calling to open the “real” Western Wall – the Southern Bend of the Western Wall!

Yes, in an ideal world the religious authorities and the government would be pluralistic and would allow all sorts of davening, even in different sections, at the main plaza of the Kotel.  But until that moment comes, we have something we should be able to do right now: Open up Robinson’s Arch to all davening, all the time.  If you come from Dung gate, it where many of the buses leave you off, it is actually the first “Kotel” you see: people don’t even have to know that there is a Wall where women get arrested for wearing a tallit or pelted for reading a … Torah!  At the real wall, you can daven how you want to daven, and there are wonderful areas for different groups to gather and celebrate.  But we need the cooperation of the Masorati movement, or the Davidson family, or whoever controls Robinson’s Arch!   Maybe would could ask the Davidson family to endow this area for davening, so that the museum would not lose out on their dues.  One way or another, we can easily open up this place of t’filla.

So on this one I say, don’t blame the chareidim!  We don’t need that frum, restricted, non-inclusive wall.  We already have a Wall, a genuine, dramatic Western Wall, where we can have everyone daven the way they want to.  Let’s use it and let others use it.

Open Up Robinson’s Arch!  Let Us Pray!  Let Us Wear Our Tallitot!  Let Us Read Our Torah! Let Us All, Men and Women, Sing Hallel Out Loud!

And I would not be surprised if soon enough the people who put t’fillin on at the other Wall, will come to the new, inclusive Wall, and the men and women will be waiting outside the new Wall for our tzedaka, and people can start putting notes in the new Wall, and we can start bringing Barbara Streisand and any other celebrity or politician to the new Wall.  Let’s continue to fight the good fight for separation of government from religion, but in the meantime let’s make sure that anyone who wants to daven to Hashem, in any way, has a way to do it at the Wall.  As the famous telegram said in June 1967,  “HaKotel Biyadeinu” –“The Kotel is in our hands!”  Indeed it is , we just have to open it up to all.

10 Responses to Take Back the Kotel Part II: Open Up Robinson’s Arch by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

  1. Joel Katz says:

    I believe you are referring to IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s ‘radio transmission'(not by telegram).

    Joel Katz
    Religion and State in Israel

  2. Marne Rochester says:

    As the Coordinator for the Masorti Kotel (aka Robinson’s Arch)I very much agree with your sentiment. There is an agreement between the Masorti Movement, the government, and the Davidson Center that allows for limited access.
    However, anyone entering after 9:15 has to pay an entrance fee to the Davidson Center, even if they do not wish to tour the archeological site. There is also no access after the Center closes in the evenings nor on Shabbat.
    In addition, all the equipment there is provided and maintained by the Masorti Movement, including sifrei Torah, tables, and siddurim. (Chairs are not allowed.) The government does not contribute at all with equipment nor towards the upkeep. The Masorti Movement does not charge for the use but must rely on donations to continue providing the equipment and service. In addition, the Masorti Movement pays for an attendant to help out at the site.
    Most importantly, we provide this service regardless of what stream, if any, the families and rabbis affiliate with. The Kotel belongs to all of Am Yisrael.

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      Marne – thanks so much for your helpful and informative response. Let’s find out how much we would need to raise to pay in order to have the area open 24/7 for free. I don’t want to get into a whole sichsuch (argument) over which ministry is going to pay for this or that: let’s go back to the Davidson family and maybe a Reform giver and an Orthodox giver and see if we can establish a Trust Fund for Freedom of Worship at the Kotel. I’m happy to work with you on this one and to nudge the appropriate people. If it’s just $$ we should be able to get it done!

      Looking forward to a free and open – and welcoming! – Kotel!

      Rabbi Asher Lopatin

  3. rivka haut says:

    The suggestions made here are fine and good, but they do not relate to Women of the Wall (WOW). WOW has rejected any alternative space. For the past 21 years, other sites have been offered, they have all been rejected. WOW has made one major concession, limiting their request (demand) to safely conduct halakhic prayer services at the kotel to one hour a month, at seven AM each Rosh Chodesh. The ezrat nashim at the Kotel is the appropriate place for the non minyan women’s only service. It is there that WOW chooses to pray. That is the site where jewish women from all over the world gather to pray. That is the site that a woman’s prayer group is most needed and belongs.
    We read now about the Mishkan. there was only one, meant to serve all the people. Until we have another prayer space for all of am Yisrael, the Kotel serves this purpose, whether it is the most “sacred” space historically, or not. WOW chooses not to be exiled from other jewish women who pray there.
    The struggle for religious tolerance is important and the courageous women of WOW do not plan to abandon their quest and repair to any other site.

  4. Asher Lopatin says:

    Hi Rivka,

    I admire and respect the Women at the Wall. I am with you: keep up the good work. At the same time, when God gives us a gift, we cannot refuse it. When God allowed us to take back the Kotel in 1967, Israel had the foresight to create the Kotel plaza and expand the area where Jews had prayed for generations. Thank God for that wisdom. Then in the 70’s and 80’s we were able to do the proper work to create another space on the Western Wall, the southwest area known now as the Robinson’s Arch area. And miraculously, the precedent has been set that all types of davening are allowed there: Orthodox and non-traditional and more. It is just a shame that we are leaving this area neglected: shouldn’t there be people shouting: Mincha, mincha! ever day at the Western Wall South, just as they do at Western Wall North? Shouldn’t there be the voice of women and men on Rosh Chodesh – and every day – in this beautiful area which is now known for tolerance and openness? Yes, we should make efforts to allow women to daven in the women’s section at the kotel – which the girls from The Rova seminary do on a regular basis, even singing Hallel! – but I think the real game-changer will be getting the Western Wall South to be run by a foundation whose mission it is to make it a welcoming place for Jews to pray as they will. First let’s get 24/7 at the Kotel South, then we can work on issues in the Kotel North.

    Purim Same’ach,

    Asher Lopatin

  5. D says:

    All major posekim have the opinion that the entire Western Wall has the status of Beit Knesset. Saying that “freedom worship” should be granted to those who seek to have mixed “minyanim” there is denying the fact that the Western Wall does in fact have an in herent kedusha aspect to it and has certain definitive halachic standars.

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      The Western Wall itself may be a beit Knesset but the area near it – dalet amot away- does not have the automatic status of a Shul. In old pictures you see men and women davening there mixed with no mechitza.

      Shalom and best wishes,

      Rabbi Asher Lopatin

      • Rabbi Mordechai Bula says:

        That’s because before 1967, there was no minyan there as the Arabs didn’t allow it. Individual praying doesn’t require a mitzvah. After 1967 when the Plaza was widened, the area in front of the Kotel became a place of prayer which requires a mechitza. This applies even more than 4 amot away; as long as prayer is going on with a minyan.

  6. Anonymous says:


    • Rabbi Mordechai Bula says:

      That’s because before 1967, there was no minyan there as the Arabs didn’t allow it. Individual praying doesn’t require a minyan. After 1967 when the Plaza was widened, the area in front of the Kotel became a place of prayer which requires a mechitza. This applies even more than 4 amot away; as long as prayer is going on with a minyan.

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