Netanyahu facing crisis as haredim vow to quit over Western Wall pluralism

Netanyahu's coalition rests on a razor-thin 61-seat majority, which means that the departure of one party is enough to put his rule in peril.

March 7, 2016 09:31
4 minute read.
A Jewish female activist (C) from the Women of the Wall prayer rights group

A Jewish female activist (C) from the Women of the Wall prayer rights group wears a prayer shawl and tefillin during a monthly prayer session near the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a potential crisis on Monday that could bring down his government.

Netanyahu's ultra-Orthodox coalition partners informed him that they will quit the government if it goes ahead and enacts any measures that would be interpreted as official state recognition of Reform and Conservative Judaism.

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The premier heard the threat first-hand during a meeting on Sunday with United Torah Judaism MKs Moshe Gafni and Yakov Litzman, Shas chairman Arye Deri, and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.

Netanyahu's coalition rests on a razor-thin 61-seat majority, which means that the departure of one party is enough to put his rule in peril.

Israel's two chief rabbis, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, canceled a planned meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday, which was scheduled in order to discuss plans to accommodate Reform and Conservative Jews who wish to pray near the Western Wall.

Netanyahu has asked the rabbis along with Administrator of the Western Wall and the Holy Places Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz to submit changes they would like to see to the plan for creating a non-Orthodox, pluralist prayer space at the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall.

The rabbis have been asked to submit their advice on the issue within three weeks, according to officials in the Prime Minister’s Office.


The officials said that at the same time, “The prime minister is committed to the cabinet decision” made at the end of January.

The chief rabbis, along with the majority of the Orthodox- religious establishment, have expressed intense opposition to the plan agreed to by the liberal denominations and the Women of the Wall organization.

That agreement would dramatically overhaul the current prayer platform at the Robinson’s Arch area and create a committee including representatives from the Reform and Conservative movements and WoW to administer the site alongside an administrator appointed by the prime minister.

According to the Reform and Conservative movements, implementation of the agreement has already been delayed since Religious Services Minister David Azoulay of Shas was supposed to have signed the amendments required to the Law of the Holy Places by this stage.

According to the “road map” for implementation of the agreement, following government approval which was given on January 31, detailed planning of the new prayer area must be drawn up by an architect hired by the Prime Minister’s Office. Those plans must be approved no later than 60 days after the architect was assigned with the job.

Channel 10 reported on Sunday that the pressure throughout various streams of the ultra-Orthodox community on this particular issue has become so intense that the political leadership has no choice but to issue an ultimatum to the premier.

The harshest criticism of the plan to make the Western Wall more pluralistic was made by Jerusalem's chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar, who along with numerous other rabbinical scholars co-authored a religious edict that makes no room for compromise with Reform Judaism.

Amar fiercely attacked the Reform and Conservative denominations, ruling that Jewish law forbids according the non-Orthodox movements rights at the Western Wall.

The “reformers and their like falsify the Torah and its commandments” with their demands for a prayer space at the Western Wall and equal rights to state religious services for their adherents, he said. “They arrogantly trample and crush all the holy things of Israel, including marrying Jews to non-Jews and other weddings of abomination.”

Amar ruled, “It is not permitted in any way to give it [the Western Wall] over to disgrace and shame in the hands of those who purport to pray and act with immodesty and clownishness, which is a desecration of that which is holy, and the trampling of the inheritance of Israel throughout the generations in a brazen and cruel manner.”

The Jerusalem chief rabbi added that even worse than providing a prayer space for non-Orthodox prayer was giving the non-Orthodox groups recognized status to administer the holy site, something which would lead to actions that would “rock society,” and could, “God forbid, lead to bloodshed.”

Yizhar Hess, the director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel, said that Amar’s comments showed that “like other monopolies on the verge of collapse, the Orthodox monopoly would also take desperate measures.

“We are confident that the agreement that was signed [on January 31] will be implemented word for word, and in accordance with the precise timetable set out,” Hess emphasized.

“The prime minister has already proved how important the arrangement is for him, and I have no doubt that he will know how to reassure his coalition partners that the agreement is necessary.”

WoW said in response to Amar’s remarks, “It is unfortunate that, despite so many opportunities for unity including this new plan for the Kotel, the ultra-Orthodox leadership in Israel uses their platform to incite hatred against fellow Jews and Jewish women. The baseless hatred that the chief rabbis in Israel express toward Women of the Wall and non-Orthodox Jews, only stands to show how truly out of touch they are with the modern-day Jewish people.”

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who heads the National Union party which is a constituent of Bayit Yehudi Knesset faction, also denounced the agreement after visiting the proposed site for the pluralist prayer area on Sunday.

“This is a blatant violation of the status quo, which the prime minister says must be protected in order to preserve the government,” said Ariel, who noted that he voted against the agreement in the cabinet vote on the plan.

The minister complained that he had not been consulted on the agreement before it was finalized, and said that he and the National Union were working with the chief rabbis on their proposals.

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