600 Conservative rabbis, leaders demand Netanyahu honor Western Wall deal
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600 Conservative rabbis, leaders demand Netanyahu honor Western Wall deal

In letter to PM, denomination heads call on Israel 'to embrace Jewish pluralism,' end Orthodox rabbinate's monopoly on religious issues

Members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements hold torah scrolls during mixed men and women's prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements hold torah scrolls during mixed men and women's prayer at the public square in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, on May 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A letter signed by nearly 600 Conservative rabbis and leaders decries the freezing of the Western Wall agreement and a new conversion proposal in the Knesset.

The letter expresses the signers’ “dismay, anger and sense of betrayal” over both incidents which took place in late June and remain unresolved.

View of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, June 23, 2017 (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

The letter addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hand-delivered late last week to Dani Dayan, Consul General of Israel in New York, by Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, CEO of the Rabbinical Assembly.

“Mr. Prime Minister, we are Zionists,” the letter reads. “You must understand, however, that in the 21st century we find it unconscionable that Israel, the Jewish State, is the only democratic state in the world in which not all Jews are recognized or supported equally under the law or in the public square.”

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)

The letter calls for an end to the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious affairs. It demands that Netanyahu “immediately implement” the Western Wall agreement to expand and upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall and put it on equal footing with the single-sex sections run by Orthodox authorities. Under the agreement,the egalitarian section was to be run by a special committee with no input from the Chief Rabbinate.

The rabbis also call on Netanyahu to insure that any new conversion law does not give the haredi Orthodox-controlled rabbinate control over determining who is a Jew.

The letter was signed by 597 Conservative Jewish rabbis and leaders, representing 417 institutions including 385 North American Conservative Jewish congregations.

“The time has come for Israel to embrace Jewish pluralism as a positive value to ensure the Jewishness of the Jewish State and its democratic values,” the letter said.

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