Liberal rabbis stake out their ground on Western Wall

The rabbis who lead the two largest streams of Judaism in the U.S. say they will take their case to Israel’s Supreme Court because liberal Jews have not been granted the Western Wall prayer space they were promised.

In a letter sent Sunday (July 10) to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the rabbis who head the Reform and Conservative movements said the Israeli government must make good on a deal announced in January, which would create a space for men and women to pray together at the Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

Now the plaza at the Wall is completely divided by gender.

But the deal has not been honored, wrote Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism and Rabbi Steve Wernick, head of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and other like-minded Jewish leaders. And while the agreement languishes, they wrote, ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups continue to harass Jews at the Wall who want to pray as they wish — particularly women who wear the prayer shawls traditionally worn by men.

“We look forward to the day when headlines feature not hateful, demeaning stories of ultra-Orthodox intransigence but rather how PM Netanyahu courageously led the Israeli government to affirm the multiple ways Jews express their Jewish commitment at our people’s holiest site,” the letter reads.

It goes on to remind Netanyahu of his own promise to American Jewish leaders whom he addressed last year: “I want to guarantee one thing to each and every one of you: As Prime Minister of Israel, I will always ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel – Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews – all Jews.”

The vast majority of the world’s 14 million Jews live in North America or Israel. Outside Israel, the predominant Jewish traditions promote women in leadership. In Israel, though most Jews there are not ultra-Orthodox, fervently Orthodox Jews hold sway over religious matters.

Also signing the letter: leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements within Israel, and Anat Hoffman and Batya Kallus of Women of the Wall, which has led a movement to allow women to pray on equal footing with men there.