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Ex-UK chief rabbi says all denominations have a place at Western Wall

Jonathan Sacks says that despite uproar, existence of egalitarian prayer area shows cabinet move not a defeat for liberal Jews

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (photo credit: United Synagogue)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (photo credit: United Synagogue)

Jonathan Sacks, the previous chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, said the existence of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall means liberal Jews were not defeated by the suspension of a plan to expand that area.

Sacks, who is an Orthodox rabbi, discussed the controversy around the Western Wall at a meeting Wednesday in London with activists of Gesher, an Israeli organization that promotes dialogue between the secular and religious in Israeli society, and Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

“Neither side should exaggerate on the issue. Each side has a place to pray – and therefore we must not think of victory or defeat,” Sacks said in reference to the Israeli government’s decision Sunday to suspend the implementation of a 2016 compromise on the egalitarian prayer area.

Under the compromise, the government agreed to expand the southern section of the holy site, which is used for egalitarian prayer, open an entrance to it from the main Western Wall plaza and appoint an interdenominational commission to oversee it.

Illustrative: Conservative Jews pray at the temporary egalitarian Robinson's Arch prayer pavilion at the southern end of the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on July 30, 2014. (Robert Swift/Flash90)
Illustrative: Conservative Jews pray at the temporary egalitarian Robinson’s Arch prayer pavilion at the southern end of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 30, 2014. (Robert Swift/Flash90)

Run by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, the main plaza of the Western Wall features separate spaces for men and women. In Reform and Conservative congregations, prayers are held conjointly.

In fending off scathing criticism by many American Jewish organizations and individuals over the suspension, an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed the move’s significance, underlining the fact that anyone who wishes to pray according to Conservative or Reform custom is able to do so today at the Western Wall regardless of the compromise.

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