The women’s prayer space deal is dead in the water
THE DECISION by the Israeli government on January 31, 2016 to create a prayer area at the Western Wall for non-Orthodox groups was hailed by progressive Jews as a “historic” event.
The plan to fund a small plaza at the southern end of the wall was perceived by the Reform and Mas or ti movements, as well as the Women of the Wall, who have been struggling for decades against the strictly-Orthodox custodians of the Kotel, as an unprecedented act of recognition by the Israeli state of non-Orthodox Jewry.
On February 25, a group of 150 Reform rabbis gathered for a celebratory prayer at the still makeshift site. Their celebration, however, proved to be much too early.
Ministers from the Charedi parties in the coalition had voted against the decision but did not seem about to put up much of a fight. The compromise, whereby their representatives were to retain full control of the main Western Wall plaza, satisfied the politicians and rabbis of Shas and United Torah Judaism, who realised that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was under pressure from influential Jewish leaders in the US to make some form of a gesture towards the Women of the Wall.
None of the sides involved, however, factored in the increasingly boisterous Charedi media. Almost immediately, the Orthodox press began attacking not only the agreement but also their own politicians for acquiescing in such sacrilege. At this point, the politicians began backtracking and it became clear to everyone but the progressive rabbis that the compromise had been compromised.
It is simple mathematics, of course. No matter how much influence Jewish leaders may have abroad, they do not have even one MK willing to take a political risk on their behalf. Shas, UTJ and at least two Jewish Home MKs who are on their side on this issue make up 15 members of the coalition. Mr Netanyahu, who is fearful they may abandon him should he be indicted in one of the investigations against him, certainly will not jeopardise their support.
Ironically, the Charedi MKs see also the arrival of Donald Trump as strengthening their hand, since they equate the progressive movements with the Democratic Party. There is no chance they are going to back down now. The Kotel deal is as good as dead.