(JNS.org) American Jewish leaders reacted with outrage following the Israeli government’s rescinding of a decision to create an egalitarian prayer pavilion at the Western Wall.
The pavilion, which was originally approved by the Israeli cabinet in 2016, was slated to be constructed over a temporary mixed-gender prayer space established in 2013. For years, America’s Reform and Conservative Jewish movements have called for an egalitarian area outside of the Western Wall’s main prayer space, which separates men and women in accordance with Orthodox tradition.
The Israeli haredi political parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, which form part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, have opposed the planned pavilion and said in a joint statement that the government’s decision reflects “the will of most of the nation that seeks to safeguard the Western Wall’s sanctity and status.”
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris called the move a “setback for Jewish unity.” Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called the decision a “slap in the face” to diaspora Jews. Eric Goldstein, CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, said the Israeli cabinet’s action “will only deepen the already accelerating divided between diaspora Jews and Israel.”
The Reform movement cancelled an upcoming meeting with Netanyahu.
“We cannot go about our scheduled meetings as if nothing has happened,” said Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who cited an “acute crisis between the Israeli government and diaspora Jewry.”
Yet Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said the decision will not affect her support for Israel.
“The people of Israel still need our support and our love, and the fact that an unbelievably, spectacularly shortsighted government cannot see its way to understand the critical importance of unity of world Jewry is something that is the fault of the politicians,” she said.