Reform, Conservative Jews take Western Wall fight to High Court
Backers of egalitarian prayer space cite government foot-dragging on implementing agreement amidst Orthodox pressure
The negotiating team supporting the implementation of an agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall in Jerusalem said it was planning to initiate legal action at Israel’s High Court of Justice.
In a letter sent Sunday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, representatives from the Conservative and Reform movements and the Women of the Wall organization, among others, said that in the “very near future,” they will present a petition demanding the reapportionment of the current northern prayer area in front of the wall to three sections: men, women and mixed.
The letter said that the group would continue to hold their mixed prayer services in the previously designated area at the Western Wall, despite Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit upholding the objections of Western Wall Chief Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, and also expected to receive police protection from any protesters and hecklers.
“We appreciate the commitment you expressed to implementing the Kotel agreement, yet we expect you to close the gap between your statements and the actions of your government,” the letter said. “We look forward to the day when headlines feature not hateful, demeaning stories of ultra-Orthodox intransigence, but rather how PM Netanyahu courageously led the Israeli government to affirm the multiple ways Jews express their Jewish commitment at our people’s holiest site.”
The letter noted several developments that “bring us to a critical juncture and are already having a serious impact on the vital relationship between the State of Israel and world Jewry.”
Citing the lack of real progress in implementing a government decision regarding the egalitarian section at the site, the negotiators also mentioned the government’s intention to continue legislating who can use public mikvahs and the “ongoing and unprecedented incitement” toward Conservative and Reform Jews by certain MKs.
The committee last met with Netanyahu in his office on June 1, according to the letter.
The missive said elements of the agreement for a prayer space at the southern plaza of the Wall — including access, funding, recognition and oversight — are “all essential elements of the agreement” that were “the result of years of negotiation and compromise.” It pointed out that the Cabinet voted to approve the agreement and that the ultra-Orthodox parties are obligated to uphold the government’s decision.
“But to date they remain unwilling to agree to even a part of this carefully negotiated compromise, which affirms that there is a place for every Jew at the Kotel,” the letter said.
It continued: “You tried to reassure us by saying that soon, your team at the PMO would begin implementing some of the physical aspects of the agreement, even without commitment for the entire agreement. We said then, and feel even more strongly now, that this would be a serious mistake. Such a tactic would undermine, rather than advance, our historic agreement.”