American Orthodox organizations offered muted responses to a proposal announced
yesterday by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky to create an egalitarian
prayer area for non-Orthodox services at the Western Wall.
The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Sharansky said that he saw no reason not to
implement a solution in which “all the Wall will be accessible 24 hours a day...
there will be the opportunity to touch the Wall on all its length,” and “there
will be one entrance through which the people are coming.”
“I hope that
we can really come to a very broad consensus,” Sharansky said, indicating that
he felt “encouraged” by the reception his proposal garnered.
and Reform leaders in the US were optimistic regarding the plan, even as they
expressed some minor reservations.
The strident tone that many expected
to hear coming from the the traditional camp was largely absent from statements
issued by major American Orthodox groups.
In an email to the Post on
Wednesday, Rabbi Steven Weil, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union, wrote that he wanted to “express
profound gratitude” to Sharansky for his efforts “in trying to tone down
animosity between Jew and Jew. He has gone out of his way to hear, understand
and be sensitive to all concerned parties.”
“There are some extremely
significant challenges which face the Jewish people, including a growing
percentage of unaffiliated Jews, the threat of a nuclear Iran, and tens of
thousands of rockets massed on Israel’s southern and northern borders.
Hopefully, Jews across the world can focus on these issues and not expend our
energies on intra-Jewish hostility and rancor,” Fertig wrote.
Shafran, the spokesman of the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, told the
Post that his organization’ s view has always been that “Jewish religious
tradition is the ultimate unifier of Klal Yisrael [the Jewish collective]” and
that, as such, it “should be what prayer at the Kotel reflects.”
rather than disparage Sharansky’s efforts, Shafran simply stated that “as to any
proposals to accommodate those who disagree, we defer, as always in Eretz
Yisrael matters, to the highest religious authorities in Israel.”
language haredi news websites either ignored Sharansky’s announcement or made
minimal mention of the issue and, so far, it seems that the haredi rabbinic
leadership to which Shafran defers has been silent on the issue.
Stein, the chairman of the Board of the women’s religious Zionist organization
Emunah, was also low key in her response, telling the Post that she prayed that
“ as Sharansky said... there will be a solution that will unify our
She also hoped that the solution “will not undermine our
different religious practices.”
The reaction of non-Orthodox groups was
decidedly more emphatic, with broad support shown for Sharansky’s efforts, even
while groups admitted reservations regarding specific points of his
Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism told the Post
that he was “encouraged” by Sharansky’s efforts and that “while his proposals
are not all we had hoped for, they represent a dramatic step towards a State of
Israel that respects and protects the rights of non-Orthodox
“There are many crucial details to be worked out, but in general I
am hopeful that we are moving towards a solution that would affirm the unity of
the Jewish people and the many authentic ways to practice Judaism,” Jacobs
The Conservative movement expressed a similar
Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of
Conservative Judaism, told the Post that “what we were presented with was a
concept that aims to resolve the issue of access to the Kotel. The proposed
concept is significant and there was good will about continuing to talk about
There are still many details to be worked out but overall,
the response was good.”
Marcie Natan, National President of Hadassah, the
Women’s Zionist Organization of America, issued a statement on Wednesday,
congratulating Sharansky and “applaud[ing] Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu
for commissioning this undertaking.”
“Hadassah,” Natan wrote, “urges the
Israeli government to continue working with Natan to ensure that the Western
Wall is a symbol of Jewish unity and diversity.”