Conservative, Reform movements escalate fight for Western Wall equal rights
Two months after the cancellation of the Western Wall egalitarian area plan, the battle for joint prayer is renewed; Conservative and Reform movements are planning to arrive at the kotel, hold a prayer service, read from Torah scrolls and blow the shofar.
After the Western Wall egalitarian area plan was cancelled in June and caused a rift with Diaspora Jewry, the issue of prayers at the Western Wall is expected to heat up again next week, as non-Orthodox organizations intend to conduct a protest prayer at the Western Wall plaza.
The event is scheduled for next Wednesday, the second day of the Hebrew month of Elul—a religiously significant time in Judaism, reserved for prayers of repentance in preparation for the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The Women of the Western Wall, the Reform Movement and the Conservative Movement are planning to arrive at the Western Wall plaza and will hold a joint-gender prayer session and blow the shofar—a ceremonial ram's horn used for Jewish religious purposes.
According to the ruling of the Jerusalem District Court, Women of the Western Wall are permitted to read a Torah scroll in the women's section of the Western Wall.
However, the rabbi of the Western Wall forbids them from inserting Torah scrolls into the plaza. For this reason, women actively attempt to smuggle Torah scrolls into the plaza.
Several MKs from Meretz and the Zionist Union are expected to arrive at the Western Wall in order to strengthen the members of the liberal streams of Judaism.
Two months ago, the government froze the Western Wall egalitarian area plan, which it approved in early 2016.
At first, the ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition tacitly agreed to the plan, which included the establishment of another prayer area, shared by men and women, at the southern portion of the wall. However, pressures by the ultra-Orthodox sector caused those politicians to renege on their agreement, and the government's decision was never implemented.
One of the reasons for the plan was the Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the month) prayer that the Women of the Western Wall have been doing for many years. As part of the plan, the women agreed to transfer their prayers to the plaza.
Now, with the plan frozen indefinitely, members of the reform and conservative Jewish movements are renewing their struggle against the Orthodox movement's hold on the holy site.
"Once the government abandons the path of compromise, we return to act for the realization of our way of praying as we did at the Western Wall," said Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. "Blame for the escalation of the situation and the tension lies entirely with the prime minister, who lacked the required leadership to implement his government's decision."
"The most national government, on the face of it, is also the government that caused the biggest crisis Israel ever faced with Diaspora Jewry," said Yizhar Hess, Executive Director and CEO of the Conservative Judaism movement. "We hoped the government would find an honorable solution, but we were wrong. Or misled. We are waiting for a hearing at the High Court of Justice at the end of this month, and in the meantime, we shall arrive at the Western Wall at Rosh Chodesh Elul."
"Canceling the plan will not stop us," said Anat Hoffman, director of Women of the Wall. "As long as a proper solution is not found, we intend to continue to pray at the women's section, as the court's decision allows us to do. If legislation is passed that turns our prayer into a criminal offense, we will be ready to see it through to the end, including prison."