Israeli Cabinet OKs prayer at holy site
Israel’s Cabinet voted Sunday to allow non-Orthodox Jewish prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a move advocates said marked a historic show of government support for liberal streams of Judaism.
The issue is of particular importance to the Jewish community in the United States, where the more liberal Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism are dominant. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed the plan in an attempt to please American Jews, a key source of support for Israel, despite stiff opposition by ultra-Orthodox and religious nationalist elements in Israel who are key members of his own government.
“I know this is a sensitive topic, but I think it is an appropriate solution, a creative solution,” Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, where members voted on the plan.
According to the government plan, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, Israel will build a new plaza for mixed gender prayer at the Western Wall, adjacent to the Orthodox prayer plaza but separate from it.
The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella group of Jewish communities, issued a joint statement with the Reform and Conservative movements calling the decision a “dramatic, unprecedented and critical acknowledgement” by Israel that the holy site should incorporate liberal Jewish prayer traditions.
The Western Wall, a remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple complex, is the holiest site where Jews may pray. The site is administered by ultra-Orthodox rabbinic authorities, who have a monopoly over religious affairs in Israel.