Former Minister Eli Yishai Says Kotel Compromise Is an Opening for More Concessions to Reform

Ousted Shas leader cautions that plan to create non-orthodox prayer plaza at Western Wall will provide opportunity for weddings of intermarried couples to be performed there.

Emil Salman

Eli Yishai, a former interior minister and former leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, called the plan that the cabinet approved this week to create a separate permanent non-Orthodox prayer area at the Western Wall in Jerusalem "a disaster" and "an attack on the Holy of Holies." The plan, he said, provides an opening for other concessions to non-Orthodox movements.

If a Reform rabbi and a priest sought to perform an intermarriage at the Kotel in the new prayer area, "could anyone say no?" Yishai asked, during an interview on Army Radio on Thursday. He also cited a news item, which he acknowledged may have simply been "an oddity," purportedly reporting on Reform Jews who had put tefillin, prayer phylacteries, on a dog and had called him up to the Torah.

Yishai, who was ousted as leader of the Shas party by the current interior minister, Eli Yishai, ran on his own Yachad party in Knesset elections last year, joining forces with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, but the slate didn't attract enough votes to gain seats in parliament.

Referring to the late spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Yishai said the plan at the Western Wall would not have passed if Yosef had been alive and questioned why the cabinet did not press for a compromise providing fewer concessions to the non-Orthodox movements. "It's a difficult and painful decision," Yishai told interviewers Yaron Dekel and Amit Segal.