Jewish federations call for Western Wall deal to be fully implemented

In letter, organizations urge Netanyahu to follow through on January agreement to create egalitarian prayer space at holy site

Reform female and male rabbis pray together at Robinson's Arch, the Western Wall site slated for future egalitarian services, on February 25, 2016. (Y.R/Reform Movement)
Reform female and male rabbis pray together at Robinson's Arch, the Western Wall site slated for future egalitarian services, on February 25, 2016. (Y.R/Reform Movement)

The Jewish Federations of North America board of trustees sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscoring the “growing sense of urgency” on the part of American Jews to see the agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall fully implemented.

The letter was approved by the board on Monday during JFNA’s annual General Assembly, which is being held through Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

“(W)e are writing to affirm our unwavering love for the State of Israel as well as to convey our collective appreciation for all you have done to advance the establishment of an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel and to make room for a diversity of Jewish religious practice and expression,” the letter says. “We recognize that no Israeli leader understands the importance of religious pluralism or has done more in this area than you have.

“We are sure you can understand the concerns we hear from many in our communities who struggle to understand why the implementation of the historic government resolution to create a space at the Kotel where all Jews are free to worship appears stalled.”

Under the agreement announced in January and approved by the Cabinet in a 15-5 vote, the egalitarian section of the wall near Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and placed under the authority of a pluralist committee. The plan called for solidifying ultra-Orthodox control over the site’s traditional Orthodox section.

But the religious partners in the agreement backed away from the deal and in June, a group of Orthodox Jewish organizations filed a petition with Israel’s Supreme Court to prevent the establishment of the egalitarian section.

Earlier this month, leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States and Israel brought at least 12 Torah scrolls into the women’s section of the Western Wall plaza for a prayer service. The scrolls were carried into the women’s section for use during the Women of the Wall’s monthly prayer service at the Wall as part of a protest march against restrictions on egalitarian worship at the site.

“We know you recognize the growing sense of urgency to fully implement the Government Resolution which resulted from the work of your office together with Natan Sharansky’s leading of the parties to a compromise,” the letter also says. “Your declaration at last year’s General Assembly that there is ‘one Wall for one People’ has become a statement that our communities truly believe and expect to see come true.”

Some 2,600 professional and volunteers from federations in the United States and Canada, as well as representatives of dozens of other Jewish organizations, are attending the General Assembly. Speakers have included Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Natan Sharansky, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain.

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