Reform and Conservative Jews are going foolishly extreme in their reaction to the Netanyahu government reneging on their commitment to establish an official egalitarian prayer location at the Western Wall. This was to save his coalition government which would fall if the Ultra Orthodox left it. However the Reform and Conservative now even talk of withholding support for Israel. This is so very stupid. Here is some historical context.
First, to Israelis this is a non-issue. It is only an issue to us in that we do not want to alienate Reform and Conservative Jews. But non Orthodox Israelis (80% of Jews here) for the most part don’t care about having the opportunity to do egalitarian prayer at the wall.
Secondly, through most of the 20th century, Reform and Conservative Jews supported the separation of men and women at the wall. Why? Because Jews were seeking to have the right of serious prayer at the wall, and having the partition was the symbol of it being a synagogue like place. In the earlier part of the century under the British, they fought for this. They argued for the prayer center at the wall to be Orthodox in character and to be governed by the Orthodox. This was documented in a J. Post article yesterday by Einat Ramon.
Thirdly, I am very sad about the direction of Conservative Judaism. They used to be more identified with Modern Orthodoxy and sought a way between Reform and Orthodox Judaism. But now they have drifted more and more to Reform as liberalism has taken over. So now the more important issue for them is radical egalitarianism. For many who want to pray at the wall in an egalitarian way, there is no real belief in the personal God of the Bible.
But there are real important issues in regard to the rigidity of the Chief Rabbis and their power in the government here. Prayer at the wall is symbol. But the real issue here in Israel is on issues of Jewish identity and marriage. Since the founding of the State, all conversions by Reform, Conservative and Orthodox in the diaspora were accepted in Israel. Now there is an attempt to reject conversions from Reform, Conservative and even several Orthodox rabbis. This will fracture the Jewish people. There is even a list being made to deny the Jewish identity of some who have had status as Jews in Israel and were able marry other Jews in the land. This list is mostly being applied to Russian Jews and is now pushing 6000. It will deny them marriage in the Land. Before, noting the difficulties in the Soviet Union, there was a lower bar of proof.
These are real substantive issues where Modern Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and others should make common cause. But the prayer at the wall issue is really being overblown. The big issue is the power of the ultra Orthodox in the government and how oppressive this is.