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There are various pictures pre-dating the 1967 Six Day War, available on the Internet and in various scholarly sources, clearly showing free mixing among the genders at the Kotel (Western Wall) in the midst of prayers without any mechitza. (It's possible that they never had any formal minyanim there, but that seems unlikely). Are there any halachic authorities which relate to these practices at the Kotel?

Some historical background from this article from the National Library of Israel: http://web.nli.org.il/sites/NLI/Hebrew/library/reading_corner/Pages/mehitsa.aspx

Jewish testimony from the British era stated that a mehitza was occasionally used during Ottoman rule, but no permanent structure was permitted. A semi-permanent mehitza was built sometime after the British gained control of Israel in World War I. On Yom Kippur, September 24, 1928, an English military officer tore down the mehitza that existed at the time. This led to a bit of a tussle and multiple injuries to some of the assembled.

(Interestingly, during Turkish and British rule, it was described by eyewitnesses as a disgustingly dirty area, with cow dung and sewage strewn about. This also didn't seem to prevent people's praying there despite the relevant halachic prohibitions. Perhaps that is appropriate for a separate SE question.)

Shortly after conquering the Kotel in 1967, the Religious Ministry of the Israeli government put up a permanent mehitza.

A large collection of pictures can be found at The National Library of Israel - 150 Years of Photographs of the Kotel

Here's are some examples:

2 men and 2 women standing together with prayerbooks

groups of men and women praying at the Wall

more groups

even more groups

You can also view a video here from 1909: https://www.facebook.com/HanochDaum/videos/1197498436938514/

  • It might be related to lack of control. The street in the pictures is a public street IIRC (not many cars though). I doubt the members of the yishuv had enough power in the Ottoman government to get a mechitza set up. – Double AA Jan 31 '12 at 16:56
  • @DoubleAA true, but one possible response to that would be a ban on men praying there if women are present. But that didn't happen, apparently. – Monica Cellio Jan 31 '12 at 17:10
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    While there is no mechitzah, if you look closely you will see that they did separate by gender. – avi Jan 31 '12 at 20:40
  • Actually, the mechitza was built in the 1920s. – Shimon bM May 8 '13 at 21:07
  • Very interesting photos. Is there a place online to see olden day photos that will shed light on how they used to congregate, dress etc? – Yehuda Feb 12 '15 at 11:57
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According to ד"ר יוסף נדבה there was a Mechitza up until 5689 (1928) when it was removed by the British authorities.

  • It says it was on Yom Kippur of 5689 which is 1928 by my count. – Double AA Jan 31 '12 at 17:41
  • Also, based on en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1929_Palestine_riots , it seems the mechitza was a temporary structure for special occasions, there being a longstanding Ottoman ban on construction at the Kotel. – Double AA Jan 31 '12 at 17:43
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    Thanks for the information. As per my question, I'm particularly interested in what they did during the period when there wasn't a mechitza. Any ideas? – ChaimKut Sep 15 '12 at 23:37
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The Jews of Ottoman Palestine were treated as subhumans under Dhimmitude. They had zero power to implement anything, even a temporary/portable screen. When the British assumed power in December of 1917 under OETA-South, the Occupational Administration, they created a policy that we still refer to as the Status Quo, refusing to undo anything created by the Ottomans with regard to shrines and worship. In 1920 OETA-South gave way to Mandatory Palestine and a civil administration. While authorities saw fit to ban slavery and other atrocious acts they allowed the strictures of Dhimmitude vis a vis the Status Quo to continue as is.

The issue in 1928 was not about a screen though that issue was used by Jews to force the real Issue to the forefront. The real issue was al Waq'f, the Islamic Endowment Authority which had ultimate control over all Islamic shrines, was trying to force HaYishuv into formally acknowledging that HaKotel is a an Islamic shrine. They actually wanted HaVa'ad Le'umi and the Chief Rabbinates to jointly sign an official document stating this.

Pathetically HaVa'ad was ready & willing to do so as were some Charedim. It was Rav Kook the Elder together with the Revisionists who prevented this. They used the Mechitzah (screen) knowing that Arab Muslims would go beserk. The British refused to get involved officially but unofficially leaned on Jews to comply with Muslim demands. The screen was a way in which to force the British to do their jobs. The nature of the British presence mandated that they support the Jewish refusal to perpetuate de facto Dhimmitude.

The violence over the screen culminated in the 1929 Pogroms of which Hebron was hit harest.

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    Hello, welcome to MiYodeya and thanks for this great first answer. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Amongst others it is important to note the source of your comments since we don't know you personally. Hope to see you around! – mbloch May 22 '18 at 6:24
  • Thank you for the kind words. In what I stated, what would require a source? It is all verifiable via very short websearch. If you or anyone else has a particular point that they cannot verify feel free to ask. – Raki Slonim Dwek May 31 '18 at 17:01
  • This is not exactly how this site works. I don't know if you had a chance yet to see the link in my first comment - but since we don't know you and you don't know others on the site, each answer is required to be sourced, i.e., to provide links or references to verifiable sources. These can be books, people you heard things from, other sites, etc. Your answer as it stands is strong but think of this for the future. – mbloch May 31 '18 at 17:19
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I don't remember where I saw the exact quote, but the Radzyminer Rebbe hy"d (see https://kupathrabbimeir.org/kramban/kp/kpymb_files/radzimin.htm ) is said to have worked toward the establishment of the Kosel women's section. He died in 1934. So that implies that access for women was restricted prior to that.

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    Or that it was mixed seating. – Double AA May 7 '15 at 17:52

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