In a hearing just a few months back, held in the Supreme Court (BAGATZ) of Israel, the government told the court that there was no justification for the demand of the Women of the Wall (WoW) to daven in the woman’s section of the traditional Kotel area. So too for mixed davening. Why? Because on January 31, 2016, the government signed the Kotel Agreement creating an egalitarian prayer space (called Ezrat Yisrael). This was the agreement reached after three and a half years of negotiations between the Masroti Movement, the Reform movement, WoW, the head of the Jewish Agency, and the office of the Prime Minister. The Zealously Orthodox (Haredim) were kept in the loop at all times.

The judges indicated that the government response was problematic. How could they claim that there was no justification for pluralistic prayer at the main Kotel area if they were not implementing the Kotel Agreement?

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Since that time, the Prime Minister has bowed to pressure from the Haredim and has indefinitely “frozen” the agreement. The next court hearing has now been scheduled for August 31. All indications are that the government will announce, before that date, some physical improvements to the Ezrat Yisrael. Make no mistake about it – this is not a partial implementation of the agreement. It is an attempt by the government to try to make the situation go away or, at a minimum, to buy time by kicking the can down the road.
Two of the main points of the Kotel Agreement stick in the craw of the Haredim. One is the creation of a common entrance to the Kotel area that would make the pluralistic section visible to all (today the entrance is hidden away). The second is that the proposed governing body for the Ezrat Yisrael would include representatives of the non-Orthodox denominations. This would be the first such agreement where the government officially recognizes the Reform and the Masorti movements.

We stand firm in our demand that the Kotel Agreement be implemented. We received far less than what we wanted at the start of negotiations. This is true of the Haredim too. There is no room to reopen negotiations with a government that has demonstrated that its word cannot be trusted.

On the very same day that the Kotel Agreement was frozen the government backed a law that would deny full government recognition of Masorti and Reform (and independent Orthodox) conversions performed in Israel. This was a double slap in the face to those who support pluralism and minority rights. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that Israel must be a home for Jews of all denominations. The Prime Minister must walk the walk and not simply talk the talk.

On Erev Tisha B’Av we shall gather for study and prayer at Ezrat Yisrael. Men and women, young and old, gay and straight, Israeli and Diaspora Jews. Let us hope that as we pray for peace we pray in peace.

Stay tuned for the August 31 court hearing.

 
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