Chief rabbis to draw up alternative deal for pluralistic prayer area at Western Wall

New draft agreement would dramatically overhaul the current prayer platform at Robinson’s Arch area and create a committee to administer the site.

Jews gather to pray at the Western Wall during Succot (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Jews gather to pray at the Western Wall during Succot
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef 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.
The chief rabbis were slated to meet with Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss the issue, but the meeting was canceled following the request to first draw up an alternative proposal.
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.
WoW said on Sunday that the agreement reached in January was the very minimum it would be prepared to accept, and that it would not be obligated to any new plan or any changes made to the original agreement.
On Saturday, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo 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.