Egalitarian section of Western Wall ‘profanes’ holy site, haredi group Agudah says


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The approval of an egalitarian section of the Western Wall “profanes” the holy site, the haredi Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America said.

“Designating an area at the Kotel Maaravi (Western Wall) for feminist and mixed-gender prayer not only profanes the holy site, it creates yet a further lamentable rift between Jews,” Agudah said in a statement released Monday, a day after the Israeli Cabinet approved the plan for the site.

The organization called it a “minor miracle” that Jews of all affiliations have prayed together at the site for the past three decades, adding that the reason it has been successful is due to “the maintenance at that holy place of a standard — that of time-honored Jewish religious tradition — that all Jews, even those who might prefer other standards or none at all, can abide.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, praised the passage of the agreement, calling it “historic.”

“We fully appreciate that much remains to be done to further religious pluralism in Israel,” he added.

Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, said in a statement that her organization “has long promoted equal access to the Western Wall for all Jews regardless of denomination or gender.”

She called the Israeli government’s approval of the plan “a huge victory for egalitarian prayer services, religious tolerance, and gender equality, and for all those, including NCJW, who struggled over many years to make this happen.”

“The decision will help heal a rift that developed over this issue between the government and Jews who are not Orthodox but desired access to the Wall. Addressing this rift will also strengthen ties between Israel and American Jews in particular, most of whom are not Orthodox, but Reform and Conservative,” Kaufman said.

Irina Nevzlin, chair of the board of directors of The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, said in a statement: “To see such a thorny issue resolved, through discussion and compromise, underlines the huge importance of building bridges and connections across the Jewish world.”

Non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in the United States and in Israel also welcomed the agreement, as did the Jewish Federations of North America, which lobbied heavily for the compromise.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky told JTA the compromise ensured that “everybody wins in the end,” while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal “a fair and creative solution.”

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, said he heard the decision approving the agreement “with a heavy heart and a sigh of relief,” while Moshe Gafni, a haredi Orthodox lawmaker who chairs the Israeli Knesset’s powerful Finance Committee, said he would not recognize the decision and called Reform Jews “a group of clowns who stab the holy Torah.”

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