The agreement reached to provide an egalitarian prayer area near the Kosel has angered some, while others feel it is a marvelous step towards lowering tensions and acknowledging there are many Jews who are affiliated, but not Orthodox. The debate is taking place in many arenas, including the cabinet, where Ministers Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levine of Likud insist the nation cannot recognize the Reform and Conservative Movements. They feel allocating the new prayer area is de-facto recognition of these groups, which is contrary to the position of Gedolei Yisrael Shlita.
The chareidi cabinet ministers are also opposed, but their opposition was passive as they fear if this compromise solution was defeated, the case would come before the Supreme Court and the latter would allocate an egalitarian area at the Kosel instead of nearby. Shas leader Aryeh Deri met with Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef Shlita before the cabinet decided and he was told to make sure the agreements do not directly mention the Reform and Conservative Movements, which Deri succeeded in doing.
The PA (Palestinian Authority) has also come out against the new prayer area, explaining it views this as a violation of the religious status quo and another step by Israel to overrun al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Hiddush organization praised the cabinet decision while pointing out the shortcomings included in the decision to accept the compromise deal.
Reform and Conservative Movement officials were angered by some of the responses, including Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafne, who referred to them as “clowns”. The leadership of the Reform and Conservative are demanding an apology. Netanyahu did speak out against the critics in Israel, but he did so in English only, to avoid entangling himself in a coalition crisis at home.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this week announced the historic compromise agreement adding “The Kosel will continue belonging to all of Am Yisrael. This is the policy of the government. This is my policy”.
During a recent trip to the United States PM Netanyahu did speak out, officially recognizing the Reform and Conservative, welcoming them and adding “I will see to it that all Jews feel at home; Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. We will ensure that the Kosel is a place that unites instead of dividing.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)