Chief Rabbinate to offer own plan for egalitarian prayer at Western Wall


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Chief Rabbinate canceled a meeting with the prime minister over the government’s plan to expand the egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall a day after the Rabbinate said it would create its own plan.

The meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set for Sunday.

Hours after the meeting was canceled, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel issued a rabbinic decision in which he said that setting up such a mixed-gender prayer section was equal to completely destroying the site.

On Saturday night, the Chief Rabbinate met with Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall, to discuss its opposition to the plan. The chief rabbis, who also consulted by phone with Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit, who brokered the deal as Cabinet secretary, said their alternative will eliminate any mention of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, the Kikar HaShabbat haredi Orthodox news website reported.

Religious Services Minister David Azoulay said late last week that he would not sign off on the new regulations to establish the expanded egalitarian prayer area. On Thursday night, Azoulay told rabbis at a meeting that the agreement will be killed and he would not sign it, Haaretz reported. He reportedly was to sign the agreement a week ago.

“They must not be given a foothold among the people of Israel,” he reportedly said of the Reform and Conservative movements.

Azoulay has called Reform Jews “a disaster for the people of Israel.”

If Azoulay does not sign the regulations, Netanyahu can authorize another minister to sign them, according to Haaretz.

Rabbi Shlomo Amar, now the Jerusalem Sephardic chief rabbi and a former chief rabbi of Israel, ripped the plan on Sunday.

““No one can hand [the Wall] over to be disgraced and defamed, to those who pretend to pray, who act brazenly and mockingly, which is a desecration,” he said, according to the Times of Israel.

Amar added: “And it is no less serious than if they would give it over to be destroyed, its stones dismantled left and right, and razed down to its foundations, heaven forbid.”

He also said the government could not make such a decision, since “no man has ownership over the site at all.”

Last month, Amar questioned the lucidity of the senior haredi Orthodox rabbis who were consulted on the historic proposal to expand the section.

“We are in agreement with Rabbi Amar’s statement that no one body or person can or should have ownership over the Western Wall,” the Women of the Wall group said in a statement. “Women of the Wall have long opposed the relegation of the Western Wall to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the sole authority of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz over the holy site. Ideally, the Western Wall would not be divided at all, but opened up to all Jews and their traditions.”

Women of the Wall has held a monthly service at the Western Wall for 25 years. Regulations at the site have allowed women to wear prayer shawls and kippahs, but prevented them from using a Torah scroll in their section.

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