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Netanyahu Reneges On Mixed-Gender Prayer At Western Wall

(Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled plans to provide a mixed gender space for prayer at the Western Wall Sunday, angering Reformed and Conservative Jews.

Netanyahu caved to pressure from ultra-orthodox coalition partners to freeze the deal for mixed prayer, which the Israeli government approved in 2016. Reformed and Conservative Jewish leaders in America condemned Netanyahu’s decision, saying it alienates the diaspora, or Jewish community outside of Israel, according to an AP report Monday.

Leaders of the Ultra-Orthodox party claimed the manner in which the deal was reached prevented compromise between the Ultra-Orthodox interests and the Reformed and Conservative movements, according to a report from Haaretz. The Reformed movement, which has strong ties to the American Jewish community, petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court for an official ruling on the mixed prayer decision, as it had not been implemented since gaining government approval in 2016.

“Don’t blame the ultra-Orthodox,” Interior Minister Arye Dery said. “We never initiated a decision on the matter. We only responded to challenges to the justice system.” Dery is the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party in Israel.

The ultra-Orthodox movement adheres to a very strict interpretation of Jewish law and does not consider the Reformed and Conservative movements to be true forms of Judaism. Dery claimed the ultra-Orthodox were willing to reach an unofficial solution to reach a compromise, but that the Reformed movement’s petition to the court prevented a deal.

Natanyahu echoed Dery’s claim, but said the Israeli government would move forward in working out a new deal, this time accounting for ultra-Orthodox interests.

“The activism of American Jewry doesn’t always help,” Netanyahu said. “I intend to present a partial solution. We need to avoid controversy over things that do harm to the fabric (of relations) between American Jewry and Israel whenever that is possible.”

Construction will continue on the mixed gender prayer site at the Western Wall, but the site will not see any mixed gender use until the Israeli government makes a new deal between the ultra-Orthodox, Reformed, and Conservative parties.

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