Jerusalem’s chief rabbi holds Orthodox service at egalitarian section of Western Wall

The Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on a rainy day, Oct. 25, 2015. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

The Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on a rainy day, Oct. 25, 2015. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) – In what is believed to be a first, Orthodox Jews temporarily took over the space at the Western Wall that has been designated for non-Orthodox prayer services.

A mechitzah – a physical divider separating men and women – was set up at the southern section of the Western Wall on Tuesday for a service led by Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Haaretz reported. Amar is the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel.

“This is an intentional sabotage of relations between Israel and world Jewry,” Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative movement in Israel, told Haaretz.

The Orthodox prayer service in the egalitarian area comes as liberal Jews are voicing frustration that plans for an expanded prayer space promised in January – and vehemently opposed by the Chief Rabbinate and numerous haredi Orthodox leaders – have yet to move forward. In addition, a new law moving through the Knesset would allow state-funded mikvahs, or ritual baths, to prohibit their spaces from being used for Reform and Conservative conversions.

Earlier this month, Amar said the new mixed-gender plaza at the Western Wall would constitute an “unforgivable wrong” that will “weaken Jerusalem” and the Jewish people.

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