Reform Jewish Leaders Thank Netanyahu for Western Wall Prayer Decision

Leaders tell Netanyahu the Reform movement expects the Israeli government to advance the values of pluralism, religious freedom and equality.

Netanyahu and Levin during a Likud faction meeting, 2014.
Olivier Fitoussi

North American leaders of Reform Judaism thanked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday for a cabinet decision in January to create a separate prayer section at the Western Wall for pluralistic worship, and for rejecting a ministers’ attacks against their liberal stream of Judaism.

The leaders told Netanyahu the Reform movement was globally committed to supporting Israel but expected the Israeli government to advance the values of pluralism, religious freedom and equality.

Movement leaders were apparently visiting Jerusalem as participants in a Central Conference of American Rabbis annual convention being held in Israel this week.

Late in January the Israeli cabinet approved a plan to create a new area by the southern expanse of the Western Wall where the Conservative and Reform movements could hold mixed prayer services for women and men.

The new section is not expected to be fully functional for at least a few months, though. The Palestinians have meanwhile protested the planned construction as an attempt to undermine Al-Aqsa Mosque next door and to ‘Judaize’ the Old City.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu denounced Tourism Minister Yariv Levin’s remarks at a cabinet meeting in which he accused American Jewish Reform movement members of leading to assimilation, citing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s daughter as an example of that issue.

"The Reform Jews in the United States are a waning world," Levin. "The assimilation there is of enormous extent. They don't even properly track [the assimilation] inside their communities. The evidence is that a man who calls himself a reform rabbi is standing there with a priest and weds Hillary Clinton's daughter, and no one condemns it, thereby legitimizing it." 

Netanyahu retorted in a statement several days later: "I reject the recent disparaging and divisive remarks by ministers and members of Knesset about Reform Jews."

"Reform and Conservative Jews are part and parcel of the Jewish people and should be treated with respect."

In the same statement, Netanyahu praised the approval of the new prayer section as an "historic compromise that ensures that the Western Wall will continue to be a source of unity and inspiration for the entire Jewish people."