Jerusalem – A delegation of American Jewish representatives on Wednesday expressed “significant disappointment” over Israel’s failure to carry out a historic agreement to allow non-Orthodox prayers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that relations with world Jewry could be harmed if the issue is not soon resolved.
The delays in implementing the deal have added to strains between Netanyahu’s government and the liberal streams of Judaism that are dominant in the United States.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the delegation told Netanyahu on Wednesday that this is a “very serious issue.”
“There is a deep concern, bordering on disbelief, that this deal may not be implemented,” Jacobs said. He said the group had made clear that if the deal doesn’t go forward “it will signal a rupture” with North American Jewry.
Israel’s Cabinet voted this year to build a new plaza for mixed-gender prayer at the Western Wall, adjacent to the current Orthodox prayer plaza. It was viewed as a victory for liberal streams of Judaism, but religious elements in Netanyahu’s coalition government oppose the plan.
The Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, is administered by ultra-Orthodox authorities, who have a monopoly over religious affairs in Israel and oppose mixed-gender or female-led prayers.
In March, Netanyahu’s office said the plan had run into trouble and that he hoped to find a solution within 60 days. Wednesday’s meeting coincided with the end of that two-month period.
Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that he continues to work on the issue and is committed to resolving the matter. Jacobs said he expected to see progress in a matter of weeks.
Netanyahu’s coalition is dependent on ultra-Orthodox parties, limiting his ability to maneuver. But even members of his own Likud Party have antagonized liberal Jewish groups abroad. Earlier this year, Netanyahu’s tourism minister, Yariv Levin, called Reform Judaism a “waning world” that would disappear through assimilation.
Jacobs said the treatment toward his movement is “very painful.”
“We express our love for the Jewish state every day. The Jewish state doesn’t return that love,” he said.