Kotel tensions
Israeli policemen block ultra-Orthodox Jewish women as members of Women of the Wall (not pictured) leave the Western Wall after a monthly prayer session there, May 10, 2013. Photo by Reuters
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A group of rabbinical leaders in Los Angeles spanning the denominational spectrum published an open letter Thursday calling for calm at the Western Wall, as tensions are expected there this Sunday when Women of the Wall hold their monthly prayer service.

The Task Force on Jewish Unity, comprising Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Progressive and Reconstructionist leaders, penned the letter to express support for Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky's compromise proposal for an egalitarian section at the Kotel.

Sharansky proposed the new prayer section in April in a bid to quell the confrontations surrounding non-Orthodox prayer at the wall, which hit a fever pitch during last month's prayer service, when ultra-Orthodox protesters hurled rocks and other objects at the female worshippers. Women of the Wall members meet monthly at the Jerusalem holy site for communal prayer. The group often incorporates some rituals that Orthodox Jews believe should be reserved only for men.

According to the Jewish Journal, the rabbinic group was founded last year, after police arrested Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall. "The hope, Siegel said, was that the group could model for leaders in Israel and in other American cities how religious leaders could engage civilly with one another, even on issues where they fundamentally disagree, the journal reported.

The letter, published in full on the Jewish Journal website, highlights the importance of respect and dignity for all Jews, whatever stream they are:

"We are American rabbis from different denominations; we know there are different ways to be a Jew.  We know that the ability to disagree civilly does not grow spontaneously. It takes many years of cultivating relationships and building trust through meeting, listening, sharing, and working together. This is a process that diaspora rabbis and Jews have been engaged in for decades, one which has begun to bear real fruit in recent years.

"Here in Los Angeles many of us are reaching across our divisions to model a relationship of respect and dignity.  Despite our deep differences, we all equally love the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We dare not demonize or dehumanize one another.

"The Western Wall is a central symbol to all Jews.  But this Wall that has united people can also divide us.  Winston Churchill used to say that Americans and the British are two peoples separated by a common language. The two groups vying for control of the Western Wall are two communities separated by a common scripture, the Torah. Matters of conscience are not themselves amenable to compromise or negotiation.  Still, we all believe that a principal element of conscience is to listen and learn from one another and to show the respect and dignity that befits an ancient people and a great tradition."

Addressing Sharansky's compromise, which Women of the Wall members have said is not relevant to their cause, Siegel, the leader of the rabbinical group said: “Maybe not everyone gets everything they wanted,” he said. “But there’s enough there for Charedim, for Orthodox, for Reform, for Conservative, and even for Women of the Wall,” the Jewish Journal reported.