Ultra-Orthodox celebrate; Pluralistic Jews furious
The Israeli government announced that it will freeze a government-approved plan to establish a pluralistic prayer area where men and women can pray together at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. The decision reverses an earlier deal struck last year that would have created a special area for mixed worship.
In Orthodox Judaism, men and women are do not sit or stand together while praying, and are separated by a mechitza (a barrier), and only men can lead the prayer service or read from the Torah during regular services. Conservative and Reform Jews are egalitarian, meaning that men and women sit together and both can lead the service and read from the Torah.
According to the previous decision, along with the traditional men’s and women’s areas, the government will build a third egalitarian prayer space. The Israeli decision angered many of the women who had been involved in the negotiations.
“I’m outraged,” Anat Hoffman, the director of the Israel Religious Action Center which is affiliated with the Reform movement, told The Media Line. “We were invited to negotiate with the Prime Minister and we did so for two years in good faith. Today he just decided that the decision is null and void and any change will require a new government decision. The women in the government even voted for it.”
The ultra-Orthodox parties in the Israeli government have been pressuring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reverse the decision as they say the Western Wall, which is a remnant of the retaining wall around the Second Temple and which Jews believe to have special holiness, must be run as an Orthodox synagogue.
Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi lauded the prime minister’s decision to temporarily nullify the plan. “The decision of the government that will divide the Western Wall—which is the heart of the Jewish people—was fundamentally wrong and it is a good thing that it was stopped.” Rabbi Lau said. “The Western Wall is not about to be divided, and the people of Israel have come throughout the years from around the world to the Kotel and it will continue that way as the one heart according to the Halacha (Jewish law)
The decision is expected to sharply increase tensions between the Israeli government and American Jews, the majority of whom affiliate as Reform Jews. The issue of equal access to the Western Wall has been of growing concern in the Reform and Conservative movements.
“I must express my deep disappointment at today’s decision by the Government of Israel,” Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said. “Today’s decision…will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.”
Rabbi Susan Silverman, who is the founder of Second Nurture: Every Child Deserves a Family and Community, and the sister of famous comedienne Sarah Silverman, says the decision feels like a personal slap in the face.
“When we make civil law out of one slice of religion, that’s idolatry as far as I’m concerned,” she told The Media Line. “I came here so that my children and my grandchildren can live in a Jewish democratic state, and we are moving in the opposite direction toward a Talibani state.”
Anat Hoffman of the Israel Religious Action Center said they will appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the decision.