(RNS) 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 they and other 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.
The plaza at the Wall is run as an Orthodox synagogue, divided by gender.
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.
While the agreement languishes, they wrote, ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups continue to harass more liberal Jews at the Wall who want to pray as they wish, and women, in particular, who wear 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 majority of the world’s 14 million Jews live in North America or Israel. Outside Israel, most Jews pray in mixed gender settings and women rabbis are not hard to find. In Israel, Orthodox Jews hold sway over religious matters, even though most Israeli Jews are not Orthodox.
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.