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Plan may loosen Western Wall rules

JERUSALEM — The rabbi of Judaism’s holiest prayer site endorsed a proposal on Wednesday to establish a section where men and women can worship together, a ground-breaking motion that could end a decades-old fight against an Orthodox monopoly of the place.

The fight over the Western Wall has intensified in recent months, after police arrested female worshippers who prayed at the site wearing religious garments and leading prayers — acts that Orthodox Judaism permits for men only.

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The arrests caused an uproar in Israel and among liberal Jewish leaders in the United States, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to instruct the semi-governmental Jewish Agency to devise a plan that would permit non-Orthodox forms of worship at the holy site.

The Western Wall’s rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovich, told Army Radio that while he dislikes non-Orthodox prayer, he would tolerate it in a separate section in order to end intra-Jewish fighting at the site.

‘‘If these things can be done at the Western Wall without hurting others, and this can bring about compromise and serenity, I don’t object,’’ Rabinovich said.

The Western Wall is Judaism’s most revered prayer site because it is a remnant of the biblical Jewish temple compound. Worship at the site is administered according to Orthodox Jewish custom. The pluralistic Reform and Conservative movements, which allow mixed prayer and female rabbis, have long campaigned for recognition in Israel.

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