TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there were “difficulties” implementing the historic agreement that would allow egalitarian prayers to take place at the Western Wall, fueling condemnation from leaders of the Reform and Conservative denominations of Judaism.
The statement comes less than two months after the cabinet approved the decision to create an egalitarian section at Judaism’s holiest site. Netanyahu, however, promised that “difficulties that have arisen” will be resolved within 60 days.
“I would like to reiterate my commitment to resolve the issue of prayer arrangements at the Western Wall in the aforesaid direction,” Netanyahu said in a statement to the press.
Although he declined to expound on the nature of the difficulties, they likely stem from ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas’ opposition to the cabinet decision to allow a designated plaza for mixed-gender, non-Orthodox prayer at the Wall.
Earlier in the month, Interior Minister and leader of the Shas party Aryeh Deri threatened to leave the government if it recognized Reform Judaism. Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who agreed to the compromise with non-Orthodox leaders over the future of the holy site, later retracted his support.
For their part, UTJ MKs have said that quitting the government would only strengthen non-Orthodox movements.
Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, said the agreement would promote Jewish unity and the issue would be taken to the Israeli Supreme Court if need be.
“Implementing the plan for the Western Wall is a test case of the ability of the government to implement its decisions, and to stand behind agreements and compromises that were intended to prevent unnecessary division of the Jewish people,” he said.
Kariv called on Netanyahu to make it clear to his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners “that the unity of the Jewish people and the connection between Israel and the Jewish world can’t be hostages to street battles in the [ultra-Orthodox] community.”
Yizhar Hess, director of the Conservative Movement in Israel, objected to the notion that Netanyahu could retract the decision.
“No one in Israel or the Diaspora is even contemplating that the government of Israel will retreat from this historic compromise agreement, an agreement that was reached after intense and exhaustive negotiations, and to which the prime minister committed in countless forums and gatherings,” said Hess.
“If, God forbid, the agreement is not implemented, it would be a horrific scenario for Judaism and Zionism. It would be a strategic mortal blow, unprecedented even, to the status of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.”