Confrontation Seen Between Orthodox, Reform on Issue of Praying at Western Wall

A confrontation was shaping up today between Israel’s Orthodox religious establishment and a movement of Reform Judaism which is holding an international convention here and insists that it has the right to worship at the Western Wall according to its practice of men and women praying together. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has barred access to the shrine for mixed prayers by members of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Since it cannot use force to uphold the ban, the religious political party, Mizrachi-Hapoel Hamizrachi, and the Orthodox youth movement, Bnei Akiva, have summoned their members to mass prayers on Thursday hoping to prevent access to the Wall by sheer numbers.

The Reform group appealed the ban to the Knesset (Parliament) and the Cabinet. A ministerial committee of the latter met yesterday without conclusive results. But spokesmen for the World Union for Progressive Judaism declared that it will hold mixed prayers at the Western Wall as scheduled. Their position is that the Wall is a shrine of all Jews, not one particular branch of Judaism.

Their position is shared by a majority of Israelis. A public opinion poll on the dispute found that 41 percent of all adults questioned favored allowing the Reform Jews to conduct their prayers in any way they saw fit. Twenty-six percent shared the Orthodox stand that there is no room for a Reform movement in Israel. Thirty-three percent had no opinion. Delegates from 24 countries representing over one million Reform and Liberal Jews are attending the parley.

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