It seems that Natan Sharansky has successfully gained agreement between the Israeli and international Reform movement, the Women of the Wall (WOW) and the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall (ultra-orthodox) that a section at the southern end of the Kotel beneath Robinson’s Arch will be designated by the government of Israel as being free for egalitarian liberal prayer on a footing equal to the area currently dominated by the ultra-orthodox.
The newly designated section will have its own entrance and will be allowed to host prayer and religious celebrations according to Conservative, Reform, Renewal, and Reconstructionist practice, meaning that women can pray alongside men, lead religious services, read from the Torah, wear tallitot, and sing aloud without concern of offending the ultra-orthodox community. (See complete story in the Jewish Daily Forward.)
The agreement will end police tolerance of the ugly insults by ultra-orthodox men and women against WOW including the orthodox screaming profanities, spitting on women worshipers, and police arresting women wearing tallitot, carrying Torah scrolls and reading from the sacred literature. Details are still to be worked out, but Natan Sharansky is to be congratulated on his “shuttle diplomacy” between the ultra-orthodox officials and liberal Jewish leaders that resulted in this compromise agreement.
This is a huge victory for religious pluralism and democracy in the State of Israel, but it is arguably only the beginning.
Other outstanding issues affecting non-orthodox Jews are still outstanding and need to be addressed. These include the need for the government to grant equal financial support for non-orthodox synagogues and institutions, equal pay for regional non-orthodox rabbis such as Rabbi Miri Gold (regional rabbi for Kibbutz Gezer who has not been paid despite the Supreme Court order that this occur), marriage equality for all Israeli citizens and the right to marry in the state without orthodox approval, and ending institutionalized preference for Orthodox Judaism.
In meetings yesterday here in Los Angeles with five members of the Knesset who were brought on tour of the Jewish communities of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York by the Jewish Federation of North America and the Jewish Agency of Israel (MK Avi Wortsman of Bayit HaYehudi, MK Yoel Razvozov of Yesh Atid, MK Hilik Bar of Avodah, MK Nachman Shai of Avodah, and MK David Tsur of HaTenuah), all five said they would support this historic compromise and bring their respective political parties, Bayit Hayehudi, Yesh Atid, HaTenuah, and Avodah along with them.
In my next blog I will report on the 90 minute frank, candid, and important conversation that we ten American Reform and Conservative Rabbis had with the five Members of the Knesset.