Will the Western Wall Agreement Head to Court?
Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders in North America and Israel are speaking out to tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they will not stand for unequal treatment under Israeli law.
This week, seven prominent Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders sent a letter to PM Netanyahu urging implementation of a previously agreed upon plan to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The letter says that, unless the plan is implemented soon, “…the Reform and Conservative Movements intend, in the very near future, to bring a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the reapportionment of the northern plaza prayer space from a men’s and women’s section to three sections: men, women, and mixed.”
The creation of an egalitarian prayer space is a key issue and a top priority for non-Orthodox Jewish leaders within and outside of Israel. As US News and World Report explains:
In January Israel announced it would enlarge and officially recognize a special mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The wall, believed to be a retaining wall of the Second Temple, is the holiest place where Jews can pray. Leaders of liberal streams of Judaism in Israel and the U.S. negotiated with Israeli authorities for three years to obtain the agreement.
The letter’s seven signatories have served as the negotiating team in agreeing on the creation of this space. They are: Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Union for Reform Judaism; Anat Hoffman, Women of the Wall; Batya Kallus, Women of the Wall; Yizhar Hess, Masorti Movement; Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, The Rabbinic Assembly; and Rabbi Steve Wernick, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
The letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu says, in part, “We appreciate the commitment you expressed to implementing the Kotel agreement, yet we expect you to close the gap between your statements and the actions of your government. We look forward to the day when headlines feature not hateful, demeaning stories of ultra-Orthodox intransigence but rather how PM Netanyahu courageously led the Israeli government to affirm the multiple ways Jews express their Jewish commitment at our people’s holiest site.”
The Israel Religious Action Center is encouraging supporters of an egalitarian prayer space to contact PM Netanyahu individually, asking him to do everything in his power “to ensure that Israel is a home for all Jews.”
"For this government agreement to collapse would be the signal of a real rupture of the North American-Israel relationship," said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.