Reform Leader Calls on Israel to "Divide the Wall"
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), has called on the Government of Israel to divide the lengthy Western Wall and to designate a section of the Wall for egalitarian prayer by non-Orthodox Jews.
In observance of Sunday's Shavuot holiday, a group of about 200 egalitarian worshipers gathered at the Western Wall for the traditional morning prayer. [Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people.] It was feared that violence would again erupt on the Western Wall plaza following last year's Shavuot assault by ultra-Orthodox Jews on the egalitarian worshipers. This year, however, the worshipers were able to complete their prayer service, but only due to the protective ring of police which encircled the group and guarded them from the growing throng of protesters who pushed, shoved and threw objects into their midst.
Rabbi Yoffie, leader of the Reform Movement in North America, noted that while he is pleased at the symbolic progress that non-Orthodox Jews achieved at the Wall this Shavuot, "the fact that they had to be surrounded by police is indicative of the need for a long-term solution that will guarantee the right of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall." Rabbi Yoffie observed that continued tension at the Wall is a tragedy for the Jewish state and the Jewish people. "The time has come," he said, "for Israel to offer a practical solution that protects the rights and respects the religious sensitivities of all Jews."
Rabbi Yoffie pointed out that for two thousand years, there had been no separation between men and women at the Wall. Only shortly after Israel recaptured the Old City [of Jerusalem] was the separation begun. He stated further: "We know that all Jews stood together at Sinai, just as we know that the State of Israel is the precious possession of the entire Jewish people. It is unthinkable, therefore, that Israel's most sacred site should belong only to a segment of the Jewish people. It is unthinkable that a majority of world Jewry should be denied the right to pray according to their custom at Jerusalem's holiest place." He called for a Knesset debate of the issue, and for prompt action by the Netanyahu government.