Egalitarian prayer rally at the upper plaza of the Western Wall .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The head of the Reform Movement in the US, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demonstrate leadership in the ongoing dispute surrounding egalitarian prayer rights at the Western Wall, and implement an agreement approved by the government in January.
Jacobs was speaking after an egalitarian prayer rally at the upper plaza of the Western Wall passed off peacefully Monday afternoon.
Some 200 male and female worshipers from a variety of Jewish backgrounds attended the rally, which was initiated by the Reform Movement along with the Hartman Institute, a pluralist educational organization.
The group recited psalms and prayers, with men and women singing together, aided by a tour guide’s microphone and speaker.
Although a similar prayer service last month at the same spot just behind the men and women’s section of the Western Wall site generated fierce opposition from haredi and national-religious protesters, the rally on Monday elicited only a few whistles and shouts from half a dozen yeshiva students.
In January, the government issued a decision to expand and formally recognize the egalitarian prayer space at the southern end of the Western Wall, known as Robinson’s Arch, but intense haredi opposition has stalled implementation of the plan.
Leaders of the progressive Jewish denominations from the US and in Israel, including Jacobs, met with Netanyahu last month to reiterate the importance of the agreement to Diaspora Jewry.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post
about the way forward following the meeting with the prime minister, Jacobs said that it was time for the government to implement the agreement.
“We understand there is some political resistance from the haredi parties, but this is a moment frankly where leadership has to step up and take courageous stands,” he said.
“The government decided by 15 votes to 5 that this was a good decision for the Jewish state and the Jewish people, and the Jewish people around the world paid very close attention. If this deal is not implemented, it will signal a rupture in the relationship at a moment when that relationship has to be strengthened and not weakened.”
Jacobs said that the prayer rally on Monday would be the first of many during the summer, and noted that “hundreds” of groups from the Reform and Conservative Movements in North America, as well as delegations from the US Federations, would be coming and holding similar prayer services in the upper Western Wall plaza to reinforce this message.
Head of the Hartman institute, Rabbi Doniel Hartman, said that implementing the agreement was a necessary step.
“This plan opens up the horizons for what Israel ought to be,” said Hartman. “It’s the right compromise and the right deal and Israel needs to ensure that every Jew has a place here. For us to solidify a notion that there is only one way to pray at our holiest site is not what the Jewish people are about.”