(JTA) — Israel’s former Sephardic chief rabbi said a landmark compromise establishing a mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall will “weaken Jerusalem.”
Speaking on Sunday, Shlomo Amar, who is currently the Sephardic chief rabbi of Jerusalem, also referred to the liberal Jewish proponents of expanding non-Orthodox worship space at Judaism’s holiest site as “wicked” people who would “find themselves outside” the Jewish people if their lineage was examined to establish their Jewishness, The Times of Israel reported.
Although Israel’s Cabinet voted in January to expand the holy site’s non-Orthodox section to the south of the traditional plaza, now under Orthodox control, haredi Orthodox parties protested the decision and no changes have been implemented there yet.
Both of Israel’s current chief rabbis oppose the compromise.
Amar said allowing the space would be an “unforgivable wrong, a sin that begets more. And if we do not maintain our holy commitment on these matters, we will find ourselves immediately dragged into things that will lead to a schism among the people.”
Last week, leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements said they were “frustrated” after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the situation. At the meeting, Netanyahu reaffirmed his support for a deal creating a designated prayer section for non-Orthodox worshippers, but did not promise to oppose changes demanded by his haredi Orthodox coalition partners.
The haredi parties oppose the construction of a shared entrance to both prayer spaces, as well as non-Orthodox representation on the committee that manages the non-Orthodox area. In March, Netanyahu initiated a 60-day period to reexamine the deal, which expired last week.
Sunday was not the first time Amar had criticized the plan for a mixed-gender prayer section. In March, he compared it to destroying the Western Wall altogether and said proponents of such a section “pretend to pray” and “act brazenly and mockingly, which is a desecration.”