(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The leaders of the haredi parties United Torah Judaism and Shas said on Thursday that if the government does not repeal the Western Wall agreement in a new cabinet vote, they will insist on advancing a Shas bill to outlaw non-Orthodox prayer at the site.
Speaking at a Shas conference in Jerusalem, MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) said that there was no way the ultra-Orthodox parties would allow changes to be made to how the Western Wall is governed and operated, and that it was only “a technicality” as to how the government resolution is annulled.
In January 2016, the government approved a resolution to establish a pluralist prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall. Although the haredi parties opposed the decision, they did not try to thwart its approval in the cabinet, but came out against it subsequently after pressure from the haredi media and the chief rabbis.
“The Western Wall will be operated according to Jewish law and according to the decisions of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate,” said Gafni.
“We will not allow these heretical cults to get a foothold and make changes there,” he said, referring to progressive Jewish movements and the Women of the Wall organization.
He said if it proves impossible to pass another resolution repealing the original one, or if the High Court of Justice intervenes, then Shas and UTJ would advance their legislation, although it is yet to be approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, a required step before a bill receives coalition backing.
Early this month, Deri told the haredi Kol Hai radio station that there was not enough support in the coalition for the legislation which is why it not had not yet been brought to the ministerial committee.
Several petitions to the High Court are currently under consideration.
One demands that the resolution be implemented or the current prayer area be divided into three sections: for men, for women and for egalitarian, progressive Jewish prayer.
Another asks the court to issue an order instructing the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to allow women to read from the Torah in the women’s section.
Shas chairman Aryeh Deri and Health Minister and United Torah Judaism chairman Ya’acov Litzman were also present at the conference, and in a joint panel discussion with Gafni discussed other issues on the agenda of the haredi public.
The three leaders were asked about the legislation proposed by the Yesh Atid party in Knesset on Wednesday to revoke funding for schools which discriminate against Sephardi school girls in their acceptance policies.
This has been an ongoing problem for Shas for years, with some Ashkenazi haredi schools refusing to take more than a certain number of Sephardi girls.
Although the phenomenon has been much reduced in recent years, it still exists and several dozen girls were without a school placement at the beginning of this academic year.
The three leaders were also asked why in the next election Shas and UTJ do not join forces and run on one combined list to maximize votes.
Litzman noted that Shas still has the ability to appeal to the non-haredi, religiously traditional sector that voted in larger numbers for the Sephardi haredi party before the election, and that it was possible that joining with UTJ would chase away those votes.
Litzman said that the idea had been examined and polled before the last election and that it had been found that it did not increase the number of Knesset seats that the two parties would garner.
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