Liberal Jews and women who object to the Western Wall being gender segregated will now be able to worship in a mixed sex plaza after the Israeli government approved the plans. Access to the wall – which is the remnants of two ancient temples – is segregated by gender, with the majority of religious rites taking place in the men's section.
The wall is considered to be the holiest site for Jews in Jerusalem, as it is the last remaining piece of the Temple Mount, and Women of the Wall, a campaign group battling for 27 years for equal prayer rights, has been holding monthly protests. And on 31 January, it was announced that a new section will be earmarked for non-orthodox mixed worship
More liberal streams of Judaism, which have larger followings outside of the country, object at the restriction. It is regularly challenged by activist group, Women of the Wall, and sometimes sparks scuffles between rival factions.
Under the plans approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, a section which was designated for mixed-prayer in 2013 will double in size to accommodate 1,200 worshippers at a cost of £6m ($8.5m).
The Israeli cabinet approved the plan with a 15 to five vote. But ultra-Orthodox cabinet members criticised the move, with interior minister Aryeh Deri telling Reuters: "For all the years of its existence, the state of Israel has conducted itself based on traditional Judaism."
The Women of the Wall have also been busy with attempting to end ultra-orthodox bans on women praying out loud, known as tallit. Women of the Wall spokeswoman Shira Pruce said the historic measure was a "revolution for women and Jewish pluralism in Israel". She said: "By approving this plan, the state acknowledges women's full equality and autonomy at the Kotel and the imperative of freedom of choice in Judaism in Israel."
In April 2013 Israeli police detained five women for donning male religious garments at the wall. About 120 women approached the Wall for their monthly prayer service, wearing tallits, or shawls, and tefillin, amulets containing sacred Jewish texts.
Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism said: "This is a landmark decision for Jews across the globe. It recognises that Judaism is an inclusive religion with a variety of different but valid expressions."