AJC Supports Kotel Religious Equality Bill

Jan 27, 2016, 09:43 ET from American Jewish Committee

NEW YORK, Jan. 27, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AJC strongly urges Knesset passage of a proposed bill permitting egalitarian non-Orthodox prayer services (tefillot) at the southern side of the Kotel (Western Wall). The measure is slated for a vote on Sunday.

For decades the Conservative and Reform movements have demanded equal rights at the Kotel for non-Orthodox worship and religious ceremonies. The Orthodox establishment, however, has consistently opposed such proposals as violating its monopoly on religious supervision of the site.

The proposal, initiated by Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky in 2013, contains the hallmarks of a true compromise. At the Western Wall the religious status quo will continue under Orthodox authority. For egalitarian and mixed-gender Conservative and Reform tefillot, a new space will be created at the southern wall. All parties, including the Orthodox establishment supervising the Kotel, have agreed to government funding for the new space.

"Passing this bill would signal the willingness of all the religious streams within Judaism to compromise their individual demands for the sake of enhancing the collective unity of the Jewish people," said Steven Bayme, AJC Director of Contemporary Jewish Life.

"Israeli government support for non-Orthodox worship in a recognized holy site constitutes a major step forward for recognition of Reform and Conservative Judaism," said Bayme. "While the Kotel belongs to the entire Jewish people, and should never have been transformed into an Orthodox synagogue, theologically, the southern wall constitutes as much sacred space as does the Western Wall."

Some issues remain unresolved, including what will be the physical appearance of the new space and the permissibility of mixed-gender and egalitarian ceremonies, such as women singing at IDF functions, on the Western Wall plaza.

Urging resolution of these issues and adoption of the bill, Dov Zakheim, Chair of AJC's Contemporary Jewish Life Commission, said that "passage will strengthen ties between Israel and American Jewry precisely at a moment when those ties may be weakening."

"Overwhelmingly identifying as Conservative and Reform, American Jews often are alienated by Israeli actions or policies that delegitimate or reject their expression of Judaism," said Zakheim. "Making the southern wall available for non-Orthodox services with equal visibility as those conducted at the Kotel and with a single point of access to both spaces marks a major step forward in securing Jewish religious equality in the Jewish State."


SOURCE American Jewish Committee