Haredi MK: We Will Agree to Egalitarian Prayer Space at Western Wall if There Is No Joint Entrance

MK Moshe Gafni shows first sign of compromise from ultra-Orthodox side, although Reform and Conservative movements have made it clear they won't yield on aproved plan.

A Reform Jew praying at the southern expanse of the Western Wall, February 25, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

An ultra-Orthodox politician has issued for the first time in three months a conciliatory message regarding the recent crisis over use of the Western Wall plaza.

MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) told Haaretz on Tuesday that he and his colleagues would agree to allocate a section of the Western Wall to the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements on condition that the plan does not include a joint entrance with visitors accessing the main area. Gafni said a similar arrangement based on the principle of separation was acceptable to the late leader of Lithuanian Haredi Jews, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

The Reform movement responded to the comments in a statement saying, "We welcome the willingness of Haredi politicians to choose the path of compromise over a dispute and quarrel. Nevertheless, the joint entrance is a central condition."

The Conservative movement has operated a prayer section since 2003 along the southern expanse of Temple Mount as a result of a dispute with Women of the Wall.

MK Moshe Gafni at a meeting of the Knesset's Finance Committee, August 12, 2014.
Michal Fattal

On the margins of a Degel Hatorah conference held at Kibbutz Hefetz Haim on Tuesday, Gafni told Haaretz: "Rabbi Elyashiv in his day ordered us never to be together with the Reform. It is a principle. We are not with them! We won't agree to a situation in which we and they enter through the same entrance."

Gafni also said that a solution could be found for a second point in dispute regarding oversight of the southern section. According to the plan put forth by Attorney General Avishai Mendelblit, to which the ultra-Orthodox parties have exressed their objections, the Conservative and Reform movements would jointly oversee the southern expanse together with Women of the Wall and the Jewish Agency.

The joint entrance for visitors of all religious persuasions coming to pray has been one of the foundations of Mendelblit's plan. Liberal Jewish representatives have announced that they would not compromise on the plan.

Still, this is the first time that an ultra-Orthodox representative is showing some give for negotiations. Gafni is essentially accepting the plan save for the joint entrance.

Gafni also related to the plan in his speech at the beginning of the conference. "We are waging a war with the Reform," he said, adding, "We will never recognize them." He also recalled a directive of Rabbi Elyashiv, saying, "What wasn't in the past will not be today."