French, British Jewish leaders make divergent statements on Western Wall controversy


(JTA) — Leaders of British and French Jews issued divergent statements about the controversy over egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

In London, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, recently condemned the decision of the Israeli government not to implement a plan to expand separate spaces for mixed prayer at the Western Wall.

The suspension “will precipitate disharmony between Jews both in Israel and elsewhere in the Jewish world,” Arkush wrote in a statement, calling it a “desecration of God’s name.”

But his counterpart in France, Francis Kalifat of the CRIF federation, did not criticize the move, instead urging all parties to show sensibility and unity.

In Britain, Reform and Masorti Jews, who practice mixed prayer with no separation between men and women, make up a substantial segment of the country’s Jewish community of 250,000, accounting for 27 percent of all registered members of synagogues, according to a report published last week. But in France, the community is predominantly Sephardi Orthodox.

Last week, Rabbi Danny Rich, a senior Reform rabbi from the British Liberal Judaism movement, attended a meeting with other leaders of Progressive Judaism in Britain with Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. The delegation protested the government’s decision during the meeting, they wrote in a statement.

Kalifat, the president of the umbrella of French Jewish communities and organizations, stopped short of criticizing the Israeli government’s decision when asked about it earlier this month during an interview with Israel’s i24 news channel. He called for unity among Jews and on people who consider withholding donations to Israel over the decision to “return to their senses.” Kalifat said he personally regrets that “a compromise was not made.”

France, where some 500,000 Jews live, has relatively few Reform synagogues.

“At a time when anti-Semitism does not distinguish between Jewish denominations, I think unity is imperative,” Kalifat said. “We must avoid decisions that may jeopardize the unity of the Jewish People, which is the means for ensuring the viability of the Jewish People.”

The suspension of the plan also provoked angry reactions from mainstream Jewish groups in the United States.

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