Miri Regev .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Outgoing Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky upbraided Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev on Thursday for her flip flop on the egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, after she said she refused to give necessary authorizations for physical upgrades to the current egalitarian prayer space at the site.
Regev announced late on Wednesday night that she is to be replaced as the chairwoman of a ministerial committee for the holy sites, following her insistence not to approve the renovations.
Sharansky said that her “about-face” was “regrettable.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently 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 Azoulay.
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 (ultra-Orthodox) parties backtracked on their decision to allow the deal to pass.
And in 2013, she Tweeted that “I will continue to work to make the Robinson’s Arch [egalitarian prayer area] fitting for mixed prayer,” and said that she was saddened that the prayer service of the Women of the Wall had been disrupted that morning.
“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.
Sharansky said in response that the “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.”
Incoming Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog has not commented on Regev’s actions.
Speaking on Army Radio on Thursday morning, Regev acknowledged the change in her position, but said that she had voted in favor of the comprehensive 2016 plan because the haredi parties originally did not oppose it.
When they reversed their position, she then decided she no longer supported it, the minister said.
Regev implied on Army Radio that approval for the physical upgrades to the site would be obtained, since Shaked and the prime minister would vote in favor, although Azoulay will likely oppose.
She also implied that Netanyahu himself would replace her on the committee.
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.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel decried however what he described as “threats and pressure” on the prime minister to remove Regev from her position, and said he would oppose any change at the Western Wall.
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who heads the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said that if Regev’s decision was sincere then it should be respected, but that she was dubious this was the case.
"Countless reversals and broken promises from Israeli government officials do inevitably lead us to be somewhat skeptical,” said Schonfeld.
"Nonetheless, we hope that she will seek to better understand the deep meaning and inspiration that egalitarian prayer offers to Jews and their families in Israel and around the world.”
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