Reform and Conservative Jews try a new tactic in battle for Israeli religious pluralism

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Impatient with the Israeli government’s refusal to honor a commitment to create a state-funded pluralistic prayer section at the Western Wall, non-Orthodox Jews have held prayer demonstrations at the traditional Western Wall. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Nir Barkin

Source: Religion News Service

By Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM (RNS) American Reform and Conservative Jews are so upset at the Israeli government’s refusal to honor its pledge to build a state-funded egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall they plan to hold monthly gatherings in defiance of the Orthodox establishment.

The non-Orthodox movements, which represent the vast majority of Jews in the U.S. but smaller numbers in Israel, have launched a grass-roots campaign designed to pressure the Israeli government and promote religious pluralism.

They have petitioned the High Court, inundated Israeli government officials with 20,000 emails and held mixed-gender prayers in the Western Wall plaza where, ultra-Orthodox religious officials say, egalitarian prayer is forbidden.

Earlier this month, they gathered for an egalitarian prayer service at the wall that resulted in ultra-Orthodox Jews shoving, yelling and spitting at the Reform and Conservative worshippers, some of them carrying Torah scrolls, as dozens of police officers stood by without intervening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the Reform and Conservative group, calling their actions a “unilateral breach of the religious status quo.”

But the activists were not deterred.

“We see this as exercising our rights and the right of any Jew to worship in the (Wall) according to his belief and custom of its community,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of the Reform movement in Israel. “As long as the government is not creating a possibility for us to exercise this right at the egalitarian prayer section, we will continue to do what is needed.”

Kariv said the Reform movement will hold prayer sessions in the Western Wall plaza at the start of every Jewish month unless the government “shows us it is moving toward implementation. But if we see that our silence is used to postpone the government’s commitment, we’ll have no alternative.”

Israel’s Cabinet approved the prayer section in January, after three years of intense negotiations between the government and a coalition consisting of the Reform and Conservative movements, the Jewish Federations of North America and Women of the Wall, a women’s prayer group.

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Categories: Israel, Judaism, Middle East, The Muslim Times

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