A view of the Western Wall plaza, the Dome of the Rock and the top of Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev is to be replaced as chairwoman of a ministerial committee for the holy places, following her insistence not to approve upgrades to the egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is advancing plans to physically renovate the current site following the indefinite suspension of a comprehensive agreement for progressive Jewish prayer at the site last June.
The new plans, with a budget of some NIS 19 million, require the approval of a ministerial committee which Regev chaired. The other members of the committee are Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Religious Services Minister David Azoulai.
Regev has implied that Netanyahu himself would replace her on the committee.
Writing on her Facebook page late Wednesday night, she said she has been having “doubts in recent months”, and that "my conscience has not given me quiet over the issue, since she said that men and women praying together was not acceptable to her.
Despite this stated position, Regev did however vote in favor of the far reaching agreement in 2016 to not only upgrade the egalitarian prayer section physically but also to recognize it as a formal holy site and allow Reform and Conservative representation on an administrative body for the site.
That plan was suspended in June 2017, after the haredi parties backtracked on their decision to allow the deal to pass.
“I have decided to be faithful to my conscience and therefore I informed the prime minister that I do not intend to approve the Western Wall plan as chair of the Committee for the Holy Places,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
“Every person is permitted to visit the Western Wall and offer his prayer to the Creator of the world, on condition that they do this through respect for the site and the heritage of Israel,” she continued.
“We have returned to the holiest of our places not in order to disgrace it,” she added.
Speaking on Army Radio on Thursday morning, she acknowledged the change in her position, but said that she had voted in favor of the comprehensive 2016 plan because the haredi parties originally abstained.
When they reversed their position, she then decided she no longer supported it, the minister said.
Director of the Reform Movement in Israel Rabbi Gilad Kariv accused Regev of hypocrisy for speaking out in favor of diversity in some areas of Israeli life but not for progressive Jews, and said it was a shame she had never bothered to meet with leaders from the Reform or Conservative movement.
Natan Sharansky, the outgoing chairman of the Jewish Agency, called Regev's decision "regretful."
“The arrangement known as the Western Wall agreement, formulated after extensive talks with all relevant parties and approved by the government, ensures that prayers held in the main section of the Western Wall will continue to be conducted according to the rules set by the Chief Rabbinate. It enables any Jew, of any denomination, to pray according to his or her preferred manner in the southern section of the wall, without altering the established practice in the main section.
“Minister Regev’s conscience is her own matter, but her public about-face regarding the need to set established prayer practices at the site is most regrettable. I hope the Prime Minister brings about the completion of the expanded prayer area known as Ezrat Yisrael, as he has repeatedly promised the Jewish people in Israel and abroad that he would.”