Israel accused of ‘cowardice’ over mixed gender prayer area
Anat Hoffman, chair of the Women of the Wall group, has lashed out at the the Israeli government’s decision to freeze a plan to open a mixed-gender prayer area at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
Hoffman, pictured above with two paratrooper veterans, called the government decision an “outrage.”
I think it shows cowardice. For two years we negotiated in good faith with the government. And then today they decide that it is null and void, that they’re not going to implement it, that equality is out the window
Israel had approved the plan in January 2016 – a compromise reached after years of negotiations between Israeli and American Jewish leaders and Israeli authorities. It was seen as a significant breakthrough in promoting religious pluralism in Israel, where the ultra-Orthodox authorities govern almost every facet of Jewish life.
But the plan was never implemented as powerful ultra-Orthodox members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government raised objections to the decision after they had initially endorsed it. Under ultra-Orthodox management, the wall is currently separated between men’s and women’s prayer sections.
Netanyahu, trying to placate both his coalition partners and wealthy liberal Jewish donors, had promised the new $9 million (around £7 million) plaza for mixed-gender prayer would be established. On Sunday, he ordered top aides to formulate a new plan but said little more. In another controversial decision his government promoted a bill to maintain the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over conversions.
American Jews, who have long lamented that Israel should be as accepting of their religious practices as they are of their financial support, have been pushing for the new prayer area. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has warned that if the deal did not go through it would lead to a rupture with North American Jewry.
The liberal Jewish groups had accused Netanyahu of delaying implementation because of pressure from the two ultra-Orthodox parties that maintain his narrow coalition. They have already petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to implement the decision and still hold out hope it will overturn it.
Arieh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said he was pleased the government blocked a plan that would have harmed the “sanctity of the site.”
Preserving the status quo of the Western Wall reflects the will of most of the people. There is no room there for destructive factions whose only purpose is to desecrate the site.
But Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, one of the few dissenting votes, said freezing the plan:
Represented a severe blow to the unity of the Jewish people, to various Jewish communities and to the relations between Israel and the Jewish diaspora.
The Times of Israel reported in 2013 that women are not allowed to wear prayer shawls or phylacteries or to read from the Torah at the wall. Any religious ceremony “not in accordance with the custom of the holy site and which offends the sensitivities of the worshipers at the place” can incur up to six months in jail or a fine.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn