Finance Minister and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has issued public backing for the Women of the Wall group, it emerged on Thursday, in the highest-profile support the activists have received from a cabinet minister to date.
Speaking at a conference of the UJA-Federation of New York in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, which was closed to the press, Lapid said that no one could “claim ownership over God.”
He was referring to both the Women of the Wall’s campaign for equal prayer rights at the Western Wall, and a broader struggle for state recognition of non-Orthodox Jewish movements.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that women can pray while wearing a tallit [prayer shawl] at the Western Wall,” he told the conference participants.
The tallit has become a symbol of the row over prayer rights at the Wall, since state law prohibits non-Orthodox practices at Jewish holy sites. In Orthodox custom, only men wear the prayer shawl, but participants in Women of the Wall prayer services at the site have routinely worn tallitot, and been arrested for doing so.
Lapid further vowed he would “do everything possible to ensure equality for the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Jewish streams, in conof the law.”
The Yesh Atid chairman made a similar promise to a gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in February, shortly after the national election, at which he also promised to institute civil marriage.
Although an agreement is crystallizing to solve the problems at the Western Wall, Lapid will face significant opposition from coalition partner Bayit Yehudi regarding any attempt to bring Reform and Conservative Jewish denominations onto equal footing with the Orthodox establishment.
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post last week, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan of Bayit Yehudi ruled out such major changes to the religious status quo.
The coalition agreement that all parties to the government signed stipulates that no legislative changes may be made to issues pertaining to religion and state without the approval of all parties.
Asked if Bayit Yehudi would wield this veto power if coalition partners advanced legislation on civil marriage and equalizing the status of non- Orthodox Jewish streams, Ben- Dahan replied in the affirmative.
Reports last week indicated that on the issue of prayer rights at the Western Wall, at least, a solution was in the offing.
According to details that have emerged regarding a plan that Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky is drawing up to solve the problem, an additional section of the Western Wall Plaza would be constructed at the southern end of the Wall, “equal in size and height to the northern prayer area.”
The section, which would enable all worshipers to touch the wall, would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the entire Western Wall complex would have a single entrance so visitors could choose which prayer area to go to.
The Women of the Wall cautiously welcomed the plan. The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinical leadership is not opposed to the proposal, either.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Sharansky while in London for former British leader Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, for a briefing on the Jewish Agency chairman’s proposals for the Western Wall.
Netanyahu asked Sharansky to continue his efforts and to review his proposals with cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser and National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, the Prime Minister’s Office said.