Orthodox Leaders to Join Conservative, Reform Worshippers at Western Wall Protest

An egalitarian prayer service is scheduled to protest the government's capitulation to ultra-Orthodox demands to back out of an agreement to build a prayer space for non-Orthodox movements.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters seek to disrupt egalitarian prayers held by Reform and Conservative worshipers at the Western Wall on June 16, 2016.
Emil Salman

Orthodox representatives of a prominent institute of Jewish education will join Reform and Conservative Jews in a special egalitarian prayer service at the Western Wall on Monday afternoon. 

It will be the first of two prayers services scheduled to be held at the Jewish holy site this week, in protest at the government’s apparent capitulation to ultra-Orthodox demands that it back out of an agreement to build a special prayer space for the non-Orthodox movements at the Western Wall.

Joining Reform and Conservative Jews at Monday’s afternoon Mincha service will be Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute, and Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. The two Orthodox leaders decided to join the egalitarian service as a sign of support for the non-Orthodox movements in their ongoing struggle to gain recognition from the Israeli government.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who is in Israel this week, will also be attending the service, which will be held in the upper Western Wall platform, in clear sight of the gender-segregated prayer areas. So, too, will Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, even though the feminist prayer group will not be hosting the event. Two weeks ago, the Reform and Conservative movement held a similar service at the upper plaza, which was disrupted by ultra-Orthodox protesters. The area is usually designated for pedestrians and sightseers.

Monday’s prayer service will be held at 16:00.

On Thursday, following the monthly Women of the Wall morning Shaharit service in the women’s section, the Conservative and Reform movements will hold their own egalitarian prayer service in the upper plaza at 8:30.

Reform and Conservative leaders have at this point all but given up hope that the government will follow through with its commitment to built a special prayer space for them at the southern expanse of the Western Wall near the archaeological excavations known as Robinson’s Arch. The plan was approved by a majority vote in the cabinet in January.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with ultra-Orthodox leaders who threatened to leave his coalition government if the plan was executed. The ultra-Orthodox parties oppose the plan because it provides formal recognition to the non-Orthodox movements.

The Reform and Conservative movements have threatened that if the government reneges on its commitment, they will appeal the Supreme Court and demand that existing prayer areas adjacent to the Western Wall be redivided into three equal sections: one for men, one for women, and one for mixed-prayer services.