Senior officials: Progressive Jewish movements endangered Western Wall plan

Government figures have hit back at the torrent of condemnation it has faced over the cancellation of the Western Wall agreement.

June 29, 2017 00:02
2 minute read.
Priestly blessing at the Western Wall

Priestly blessing at the Western Wall. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Government figures have hit back at the torrent of condemnation it has faced over the cancellation of the Western Wall agreement, saying that progressive Jewish movements themselves had endangered the implementation of the plan and forced the haredi political parties into the corner.

The government and senior officials involved in implementing the January 2016 resolution had expressed concern at the time that the progressive Jewish movements not be overly triumphant once the deal had been approved for fear of sparking a backlash against it, especially with regard to the sensitive issue of state recognition for their denominations. 

When the resolution was approved by the cabinet on Jan. 31, 2016, there was an outpouring of jubilation by Reform and Conservative leaders, as well as those of Women of the Wall, hailing specifically the recognition of non-Orthodox Jews and Judaism inherent in the agreement.

Reform leaders spoke of the “historic moment in which the prayer services and customs of the non-Orthodox denominations will for the first time receive official status and standing in Israel law,” while the Women of the Wall said it showed that “there is more than one way to be Jewish in Israel.”

Implementation was stalled throughout the course of 2016 as senior haredi rabbis including Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef and Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar fiercely denounced the agreement, while the influential haredi news websites kept up a steady stream of news articles and editorials censuring the deal and the haredi MKs and ministers who had agreed to it.

The government recognition of the designated site for the egalitarian prayer plaza at the southern end of the Western Wall required the approval of the Religious Services Minister David Azouali of Shas, creating a serious obstacle to one of the key components of the deal.

Azouali, on instructions from Shas chairman Aryeh Deri and the United Torah Judaism party, refused to sign off on the required administrative orders.

In frustration, the head of the Reform and Conservative movements and of Women of the Wall, together with several hundred supporters and activists held a prayer rally at the Western Wall.

A senior Israeli official noted to The Jerusalem Post that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had urged them not to go through with the rally at a meeting of the Jewish Agency’s board of governors, saying “The last thing we need is more friction, as that will make a solution more difficult.”

The rally went ahead and resulted in violent altercations at the Western Wall between progressive worshipers, and haredi and Orthodox protesters, while Western Wall Heritage Foundation hired orderlies tangled with progressive worshippers as well.

The haredi leadership even claimed that men had sought to pray together with the women in the Women’s Section, although these claims were largely unsubstantiated.

"That event left the haredi politicians with zero political space to maneuver and compromise. It was predictable and avoidable,” the senior Israeli official told the Post on Wednesday.

Government officials are claiming that they had urged patience over implementation of the Western Wall agreement, and compare it to the deal over the development and exploitation of Israel’s offshore natural gas fields, arguing that it had to be revised and adapted as circumstances changed.

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