Jewish Leaders Slam Israeli Minister for Backtracking on Mixed-gender Prayer Area at Western Wall

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Women pray at the Western, 2017
Women pray at the Western, 2017Credit: Michal Fattal

Leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel responded with outrage to Culture Minister Miri Regev’s announcement that she is resigning from her post as head of the ministerial panel responsible for approving the mixed- gender prayer area at the Western Wall. They accused her of hypocrisy and capitulation to narrow political interests.

Noting that Regev had voted in favor of the original plan to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, where the non-Orthodox movements were supposed to have received full recognition, Yizhar Hess, chief executive of the Conservative movement in Israel, said: “Minister Regev, if your base were the entire Jewish people, rather than the pressure groups with whom you met in recent weeks, you would probably have acted with statesmanship, as your ministerial position requires, rather than degrade Jews because of their Judaism.” Regev's resignation from the Committee puts a de facto roadblock in the path of approval of the plan.

>> Israel's Western Wall crisis: Why Jews are fighting with each other over the Jewish holy site, explained

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, May 2018Credit: Ilan Assayag

“Who are you, Minister Regev,” Hess continued in the statement, “to tell most of the Jewish people who pray without a mechitza (a barrier separating men from women) that their prayer practices are a disgrace?”

Hess noted that not only had Regev voted in favor of the original Western Wall deal in January 2016 but that she had also praised it at the time. “But what is deepening the rift within the Jewish people compared with another few votes in the primaries and flattering headlines in the ultra-Orthodox press?” he asked sarcastically.

Natan Sharansky, the outgoing chairman of the Jewish Agency, also expressed his dismay with Regev’s decision. “Minister Miri Regev’s conscience is her own personal matter,” he said Sharansky. “But the change in her public position on the matter of regulating prayer at the site is regretful.”

Sharansky, who drafted the blueprint of the original Western Wall deal, expressed hope that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would push ahead with plans to expand the existing egalitarian prayer space “as he has repeatedly promised the Jewish people in Israel and abroad."

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said that with her actions, Regev had joined forces with the “chorus of ministers and lawmakers deepening the divide between Israel and large portions of the Jewish world.”

“If she did this because of her conscience, as she claims,” he said, “it’s a shame that she didn’t bother meeting with leader of the Reform and Conservative movements and discuss it with them. If her decision is based on narrow political considerations, then she has compromised her job.”

Considering that Regev speaks often about the need to strengthen Jerusalem for the sake of Israel and the Jewish people, charged Kariv, “her decision smacks of hypocrisy and irresponsibility.”

“It’s a shame that this is the way she chooses to greet thousands of young Reform and Conservative Jews who will be visiting Jerusalem and all of Israel over the next few weeks,” he added.

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