WASHINGTON (JTA) – Three U.S. Jewish groups welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s initiative to review restrictions on women’s prayer at the Western Wall.
The Union for Reform Judaism, Hadassah and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly greeted the move by Netanyahu, who this week asked the Jewish Agency and its chairman, Natan Sharansky, to come up with solutions to ensure that women are welcome at the Western Wall.
“It’s a really important development,” Mark Pelavin, a senior adviser to the Union for Reform Judaism’s president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, told JTA. “It’s the first time the prime minister has recognized that the status quo is problematic. It’s the beginning of a much more serious conversation about women in israel
In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women donning religious garments or reading from a Torah scroll while at the Wall, saying that such meetings represented a threat to public safety and order. The court required the government to provide an alternate place for women to pray, and the nearby Robinson’s Arch site was opened for egalitarian prayer that year.
Women who have attempted to pray at the Western Wall while wearing their tallit or tefillin have been arrested.
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said her group would support “Israel in its efforts to work toward ensuring women’s equality and religious pluralism both in the most sacred moment of prayer at the Western Wall and throughout life in Israel."
Hadassah President Marcie Natan said her organization “hopes that a resolution can be reached which will allow all women to pray, individually and collectively, at the Kotel freely, without harassment, and in accordance with their own religious practices.”
The National Council of Jewish Women said Netanyahu’s initiative should not delay the implementation of a solution or allow arrests of women who pray at the Western Wall to continue.
“It is clear the dispute over the Wall has the potential to drive a wedge between Israel and her supporters abroad, but the focus for the inquiry must remain on finding a way to allow access that respects gender equality and religious diversity,” NCJW CEO Nancy Kaufman said in a statement. “The Wall cannot continue to be the purview of only one religious perspective.”