Members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community breathed sighs of relief after President Donald Trump’s visit to the Western Wall on Monday went off without a hitch.
Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to visit and pray at the wall, but the prospect of his wife and daughter potentially accompanying him to the men’s section of the wall had prompted concern among some ultra-Orthodox Jews.
But Ivanka and Melania Trump avoided causing a stir during their visit by praying at the separate, smaller, women’s section of the wall.
During his visit to one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the president prayed with his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is an Orthodox Jew, and Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, and put a prayer note into one of the crevices in the wall, while Melania and Ivanka Trump did the same in the women’s section with the rabbi’s wife, Yael Rabinowitz.
Women’s prayer at the Western Wall has long been the subject of controversy, with Israel’s Supreme Court ruling at the beginning of the year that women should be allowed to read from the Torah at the sacred site.
It also ruled that a separate egalitarian prayer area known as Robinson’s Arch did not represent access to the Western Wall.
The court ruling overturned a 2010 directive from Rabinowitz that said women visiting the holy site should not use a Torah in the designated female area of the wall.
And the ruling also prevented the body searches carried out on women on entry to the plaza, beyond the usual security measures, which had previously been used to detect contraband items such as scrolls and prayer shawls.
But the Trump family’s visit to the wall once again highlighted the issues raised by groups such as Women of the Wall, prompting concerns that Melania and Ivanka Trump would shun tradition in order to pray with the president.
Despite rumors this would be the case, former U.S. ambassador Dan Shapiro said it would be a surprise if Ivanka and Melania Trump had opted to pray with the president.
“I can’t imagine such an arrangement being permitted for any other visitor, so I don’t know that it has even been agreed to,” Shapiro told The Forward. “If it has it seems to me a truly exceptional arrangement and pushed for very hard by the American side.”
During their visit to Jerusalem, Donald Trump and his wife also toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in what the White House said was a private visit.