AJC is calling on Israeli leaders to implement without further delay the government-approved agreement on pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall (Kotel). The latest obstacle to implementation is legislation sponsored by the Shas political party that would ban and penalize non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel area.

“The Shas bill essentially declares the Kotel compromise to be dead. It would be a tragedy for the Jewish people if the Knesset adopts it,” said Steven Bayme, AJC Director of Contemporary Jewish Life. “Jews of differing religious persuasions need to find ways to cooperate for the greater collective good of the Jewish people. Ignoring that spirit of social contract over Judaism's holiest site signals intolerance and contempt for non-Orthodox expressions of Judaism, and poisons relations between Jews.”

Under the agreement announced in January 2016, and approved by the Cabinet in a 15-5 vote, the egalitarian section at the wall near Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and placed under the authority of a pluralist committee. The plan called for solidifying haredi Orthodox control over the site’s traditional Orthodox section.

AJC welcomed the government-approved agreement as historic, but over the past year “history has been allowed to stand still, as efforts by those opposed to the compromise have repeatedly raised obstacles harmful to Jewish peoplehood,” said Bayme.

The Shas measure has been sharply criticized by Nathan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency and one of the principal advocates for the compromise, and 30 Members of Knesset recently wrote to Prime Minister Netanyahu asking him to stop the proposed legislation.

However, a senior Likud member, David Amsalem, who chairs the Knesset Interior Committee, also has called for the Israeli government to cancel the Western Wall egalitarian prayer agreement. “It’s not the end of the world if American Jews get offended,” said Amsalem.

Prime Minister Netanyahu stated to AJC, in a September 2015 letter, his commitment “to strengthening the unity of the Jewish people,” and pledged “to unequivocally reject any attempt to divide us or to delegitimize any Jewish community – Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.”

“The Kotel historically represents the national treasure and heritage of the entire Jewish people,” said Bayme. “Maintaining an Orthodox monopoly there serves only to offend non-Orthodox lovers of Israel and the Jewish people. Moreover, many Orthodox Jews as well will be similarly offended by the culture of intolerance suggested by the bill and its supporters. As such, we count on the Prime Minister to oppose the measure.”

Photo By: Rachel Barenblat

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