Conservative Jewry, US federations decry ‘deplorable’ Western Wall reversal
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Conservative Jewry, US federations decry ‘deplorable’ Western Wall reversal

Masorti movement sees 'rising influence of an intolerant religious establishment as existential threat to future of Jewish people'

Men and women of the "Women of the Wall" organization wear prayer shawls and pray on the plaza near the Western Wall in Jerusalem on July 8, 2013. (Zuzana Janku/FLASH90)
Men and women of the "Women of the Wall" organization wear prayer shawls and pray on the plaza near the Western Wall in Jerusalem on July 8, 2013. (Zuzana Janku/FLASH90)

The Conservative movement on Monday slammed the “deplorable” cabinet decision to shelve plans for a pluralistic worship area at the Western Wall, adding its voice to a chorus of criticism over the reversal of the hard-won agreement

A statement from a collection of leading Conservative groups also lambasted the Knesset’s initial approval of a bill that would cement the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on conversions.

“The Conservative/Masorti movement, speaking as a whole, deplores this action, yet another failure to uphold an agreement reached after years of negotiations,” the organizations said of the Western Wall deal reversal.

The statement was sent on behalf of the Rabbinical Assembly, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Mercaz Olami, Masorti Olami and the Masorti movement in Israel.

“Because we love Israel, and see the rising influence of an intolerant religious establishment as an existential threat to its future and to the unity of the Jewish people, we will not rest until these decisions not only are overturned, but also until Israel fulfills the promise of its Zionist origins and founding declaration to ‘ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex’ and to ‘guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture,'” the statement read.

The cabinet on Sunday suspended a government-approved plan to establish a pluralistic prayer pavilion at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, which was to have had joint oversight by all streams of Judaism, following calls by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition allies to scrap the deal.

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu instructed Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman and Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to formulate a new plan for the site.

It also said construction work on the southern edge of the Western Wall plaza — where the pluralistic prayer pavilion was slated to be built — would continue uninterrupted.

Earlier in the day, Yizhar Hess, head of the Conservative movement in Israel, wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that he regretted reaching a compromise with the government over the issue.

One of the many negotiation meetings leading up to the January 2016 Western Wall compromise. Here at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, with former Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit (black jacket), Rabbi Steven Wernick, head of United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, executive director on the Masorti Movement Yizhar Hess (glasses) , and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly. (courtesy Yizhar Hess)
One of the many negotiation meetings leading up to the January 2016 Western Wall compromise. Here at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, with former Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit (black jacket), Rabbi Steven Wernick, head of United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, executive director on the Masorti Movement Yizhar Hess (glasses) , and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. (courtesy Yizhar Hess)

“We made a mistake. We believed the government, we believed the prime minister, we believed that we needed at last to end this squabbling among ourselves over the Western Wall, and we agreed to a compromise arrangement,” he wrote. “But the Cabinet’s decision last night — a cynical, even wicked decision — took this historic agreement and threw it in the faces of millions of Jews around the world.”

The Jewish Federations of North America also condemned the government’s decision.

“JFNA is deeply disappointed over the Israeli government’s recent decisions to freeze the 2016 compromise over egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall and to give the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly over Jewish conversion,” the organization said in a statement.

The statement came as Netanyahu met with federation leaders to discuss the Western Wall reversal and the cabinet’s approval of the bill granting the ultra-Orthodox a de facto monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel.

No statement was issued by either side following the meeting.

The Western Wall plan was approved by government ministers in January 2016.

The cabinet decision to freeze it on Sunday coincided with a High Court of Justice deadline for the state to respond to petitions on its failure to implement the agreement and construct the mixed-gender plaza near Robinson’s Arch by this week.

The conversion bill, which was propounded by the ultra-Orthodox parties, would pull the government’s recognition of private conversions, namely those not conducted by the Chief Rabbinate.

The approval by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday gives the proposal coalition support, although an appeal against it by the Yisrael Beytenu party could undermine its chances of advancing.

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