When I met with Natan Sharansky in May to discuss the compromise solution he was proposing for prayer at the Western Wall, I thought the plan he laid before me was ingenious and well worth supporting. I told him that his plan had significance beyond the conflict between Haredim and Women of the Wall. It offered a chance not only to defuse antagonism, head off violence, and alter the landscape of Jerusalem, but also to change the entire configurations of Jewish religious practice in Israel. Sharansky’s plan was so momentous, I remember saying, it was probably too good to be true; certainly the enemies of Jewish religious pluralism would make sure that his compromise never moved from proposal to reality.
Now, less than two months later, pundits and activists on all sides of the debate are wishing or pronouncing the Sharansky plan dead—killed by a set of forces more diverse and complex than any of us could have imagined at the time. Archaeologists don’t like the digging that the plan would entail. Muslim officials of the Waqf fear it will undermine the foundations of the Temple Mount. Advocates of giving part of Jerusalem back to Palestinians in return for peace fear that development of the Western Wall Plaza will preclude such arrangements when the time comes. Most important, a district court judge has given women the right to pray as they see fit on the women’s side of the Kotel. The police have turned from arresting women wearing prayer shawls at the Wall to protecting them from Haredi taunts and stones. “Suddenly there is almost no pressure to enforce the expensive and ambitious compromise proposed by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky,” wrote Yair Ettinger in Ha’aretz. It’s difficult to argue with that conclusion.
That’s too bad, I think. The Sharansky plan should not be abandoned, for a number of reasons.