US non-Orthodox Jewish leaders meet PM on Western Wall prayer deal
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US non-Orthodox Jewish leaders meet PM on Western Wall prayer deal

Netanyahu and Reform, Conservative movements seek new compromise after January agreement torpedoed by Haredi parties

The Western Wall (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
The Western Wall (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

American non-Orthodox Jewish religious leaders were meeting Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a contentious compromise regarding liberal religious streams’ access to the Western Wall holy site in Jerusalem.

The issue has pitted the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel and the United States against Israel’s Haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate, which controls the site and has regulated it as an Orthodox synagogue.

The Wednesday afternoon meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office included Netanyahu, his chief of staff David Sharan, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Women of the Wall head Anat Hoffman, Israeli Reform movement leader Rabbi Gilad Kariv, American Reform movement leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Israeli Masorti movement head Yizhar Hess, American Conservative movement leaders Rabbi Julie Schonfeld and Rabbi Steven Wernick, and Jewish Federations of North America head Jerry Silverman and the federations’ Israel and overseas head Rebecca Caspi.

The meeting comes after the collapse of a previous compromise that won the approval of the cabinet in a January 31 vote. That proposal called for a pluralistic prayer pavilion to be established in what is today the Davidson Archaeological Park (also known as Robinson’s Arch) abutting the southern end of the Western Wall. It was canceled following vociferous objections of Haredi parties.

Members of Women of the Wall wear prayer shawls as they read from the Torah and pray at Robinson's Arch, near the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Members of Women of the Wall wear prayer shawls as they read from the Torah and pray at Robinson’s Arch, near the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

One insider close to the negotiations said the Haredi parties are demanding two key changes to the current plan: the cancellation of a much-lauded joint entrance to the Western Wall pavilion, and the removal of government funding for the establishment and maintenance of the egalitarian pavilion.

The idea of a separate entrance has been lambasted by liberal activists who say it effectively excludes them from the main plaza.

According to individuals involved in the negotiations, the funding for the egalitarian section will not be hard to find from private sources, including nonprofits such as the Jewish Agency, JFNA and others.

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