There is an ongoing discussion on an e-mail list about the partition – the Mechitza -at the Kotel today. This is one of my pet peeves. I see absolutely no reason for it on a daily basis. What many people do not know is that prior to 1948 there was no Mechitza at the Kotel. Archival photos taken in the late 19th and early 20th century confirm that. See photo at left.
It has been argued that because of the huge crowds the Kotel attracts during a Yom Tov, that Tznius issue demand that a Mechitza be erected. Perhaps. When there is a crush of people I can certainly understand why it would be wise to separate the sexes. But most days at the Kotel it is sparsely attended.
The women's side of the Mechitza at the Kotel is much smaller than the men’s side and yet many more women attend than do men on any given day. At least that has been my experience every time I go.
If the Kotel Plaza were opened up, there would be plenty of room for everyone without any Tznius issues. To the best of my knowledge there is absolutely no Halachic or practical need for it on most days.
The only place a Mechitza is required is in a Mikdash Me’at – a Shul during prayer with a Minyan. Only a Shul has a special status of Kedushas Beis HaKenesses and requires men and women to be separated that way. No other venue requires a Mechitza for prayer with a Minyan. The Kotel Plaza does not have the status of a Shul and therefore does not require a Mechitza.
The proof is that it doesn’t have that status is that there has never been one. One need only look at the photographic evidence of it to see that. The Kotel is not a Shul - no matter how many Aronei Kodesh one finds there or how many ad hoc Minyanim take place there. The Kotel Plaza is no different than a wedding hall where men gather to Daven Mincha or Maariv with a Minyan without a Mechitza.
Some have claimed that these places have somehow morphed into little Shuls. I disagree. They were never set up that way at all on the outside. Perhaps the part of the Kotel to the left that has rooms and a roof connected to the Kotel are so designated. Those would require a Mechitza. Of course there is no Mechitza there because women have no access to it. In my view that is unfair and as far as I know - there is no legitimate Halachic reason for barring women from Davening there. They should be able to Daven there with a Minyan and out of the direct heat of the sun.
This whole Mechitza business at the Kotel is nothing more than an attempt to Charedize the Kotel as much as possible. And it has succeeded.