Reform movement leader supports Western Wall plan

Reform movement leader supports Western Wall plan

Rabbi Rick Jacobs says proposed compromise for an expanded egalitarian section at holy site is a unique opportunity

Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs (Robert A. Cumins/JFNA via JTA)
Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs (Robert A. Cumins/JFNA via JTA)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Reform movement, endorsed a plan for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, on Friday in Jerusalem called for support of the “bold, audacious proposals by Natan Sharansky, ” the Jewish Agency chairman. He was speaking at Connections 2013, the 36th International Conference of the World Union of Progressive Judaism.

Under the plan recommended last month by Sharansky, an existing egalitarian section of the wall known as Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and a unified entrance to the Western Wall Plaza would be built leading to the wall’s traditional and egalitarian sections.

In recent days, Sharansky has met with senior staff at the Prime Minister’s Office for consultations including outgoing Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser and National Security Advisor Yaacov Amidror, according to the Jewish Agency. In addition, he met with archaeologists and other experts.

Late last week Sharansky, who was tasked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with finding answers to the egalitarian prayer issue at the Western Wall, also met with Jacobs and Union for Reform Judaism Board Chair Stephen Sacks.

Jacobs on Friday called the proposal “a unique opportunity” for the Reform movement. He noted that several weeks ago, when Sharansky first presented the proposals to a group of rabbis in New York spanning the religious spectrum, no one left happy.

“We all were hoping for more,” he said. “But because we all left unhappy, Natan Sharansky had done a very good job. What he did was he stretched every single one of us to a place where sometimes Jewish leaders, especially rabbinic leaders, don’t like to go. It’s a little place called compromise. And somehow he understood that whatever solution he would bring not only to the Diaspora leadership but also to the leadership here, it had to make everybody a little bit uncomfortable, to move everybody off their place of comfort and righteous demand to a place where we could all be together.”

Jacobs added that it is “not just the Kotel that needs to be liberated,” referencing discrimination by the haredi Orthodox against women on buses and in public forums, as well as against the non-Orthodox movements of Judaism.

However, earlier this month the Women of the Wall organization, that is pushing for women’s prayer rights at the Western Wall, withdrew their endorsement of Sharansky’s proposal following a court decision that their prayer sessions at the wall are not against the law.

A woman prays at Robinson's Arch, near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, March 12, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
A woman prays at Robinson’s Arch, near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, March 12, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The WOW had in the past been more open to Sharansky’s solution as a tolerable, but less than perfect solution.

Protests over the high-profile arrests of women at the holy site led Netanyahu to tap Sharansky, late last year, to formulate a compromise solution.

Initially, the compromise seemed to have worked. Both WOW and the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, expressed cautious support. But Rabinowitz also has backtracked from a statement indicating that while he didn’t like the proposal, he could “live with it.”

“We must, along with the Chief Rabbinate and other great rabbis, examine if we should oppose the proposal referring to Robinson’s Arch, which is not part of the Western Wall synagogue, if this would be a solution acceptable to everyone,” Rabinowitz said in a statement in April.

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