Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said Tuesday morning that he does not intend to present recommendations on resolving the conflict over prayer regulations at the Western Wall until a new coalition has been formed.
“I proposed that we keep the issue quiet so that it would not be influenced by the coalition negotiations,” he told participants at a session of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, which is meeting in Jerusalem this week. “The Jewish Agency functions not at as a lobby group for U.S. Jewry but to enhance the connection between Diaspora Jews to the people and government of Israel.”
About 30 participants at the session held by the Unity of the Jewish People Committee asked to address recent clashes between police and members of Women of the Wall, an organization that holds a monthly prayer service at the Western Wall. In recent months, police have detained members of the women’s group for wearing prayer shawls and reciting the prayers out loud. Their arrests have made headlines around the world.
This morning’s session was moderated by the committee director, Shoel Silver, who presented a brief introduction to the history of the conflict along with a short film. Most of the participants were representatives of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
Among the suggestions raised by participants for resolving the ongoing conflict was upgrading the area near the Western Wall, known as “Robinson’s Arch,” which has already been offered to members of Women of the Wall as a venue for their prayer services. Another suggestion was setting aside specific days and times when Women of the Wall would be free to hold their services without interference. Some of the participants urged the government to allow mixed services and ceremonies at the plaza outside the main praying area of the Western Wall.
About a month ago, in response to mounting pressure from Jewish groups abroad, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Sharansky to draft recommendations on changing prayer procedures at the Western Wall acceptable to all sides concerned. Sharansky was furious last week when he learned that, despite efforts to reach a modus vivendi, police had arrested 10 women praying at the wall for wearing prayer shawls.
“Let’s be honest,” Yizhar Hess, head of the Conservative movement in Israel, told the participants. “This is a historic accident. The Kotel was liberated and then abandoned. Now it is in complete captivity, in the hands of an extremist group that represents a minority of the Jewish people. We strengthen the hands of Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky who took on himself this important mission of returning the Kotel to the Jewish people, but we will only be able to bless the final outcome when we see it.”
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