Prayer at the Western Wall Resolution
Gains Unanimous Approval
At J’lem Board of Governors Meeting
of the Jewish Agency
Resolution Drafted by USCJ and URJ Leadership
Follows Arrest of Anat Hoffman
Calls for End to Religious Coercion in Israel
October 31, 2012 (New York, NY) – Meeting Tuesday in Jerusalem, the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel unanimously approved a resolution that calls for a “achieving a satisfactory approach to the issue of prayer at the western wall of Har Habayit,” that is consistent with Israel’s guaranteed freedom of religion and conscience, as stated in its Declaration of Independence.
The resolution responds, in part, to the recent arrest of activist Anat Hoffman while praying at the Western Wall, an act that sparked worldwide outrage and allegations that Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate was seeking to eliminate religious pluralism in the Jewish homeland.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), working through MERCAZ USA and MERCAZ Olami (the Conservative Zionist parties) and together with the Union for Reform Judaism and ARZA (the Reform Zionist arm), submitted their resolution to the Committee of Jewish Unity at the board meeting, explained Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of USCJ, who was present at the gathering as a member of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.
“Though our first resolution was defeated, an alternative resolution offered by the chair with friendly amendments accepted by the author was submitted. We made sure that we didn’t compromise on our key message which is for religious freedom in Israel – we are delighted that it was approved unanimously in committee and at the Board of Governors,” he said.
The process by which the resolution was approved involved substantial work, reports Rabbi Wernick. “The discussion on this issue was frank, substantive and respectful. Following this discussion the committee spoke about the Chief Rabbinate, its increasing coercive power and how it is in need of serious review for the unity of the Jewish people,” he said.
It was noted that the committee should consider a more strategic approach to multi-faceted approaches to Israel and the influence and impact that it may have on the issue in taking such an approach, added Rabbi Wernick.
Both in committee and at the Board of Governors, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky was very articulate and forceful in representing the outrage and condemnation of Ms. Hoffman's treatment, said Rabbi Wernick. Indeed, as the board discussed the recent arrest of Women of the Wall activist Anat Hoffman, Mr. Sharansky said, “We are very angry and very upset at the behavior of Israel’s police.”
“We thank Mr. Sharansky for his continued leadership on this issue,” said Rabbi Wernick, who had assumed an outspoken position following the arrest of Ms. Hoffman by spearheading several responses -- including a letter writing campaign to Prime Minister Netanyahu and a Global Sh’ma Flashmob, organized through Facebook, which drew thousands of people around the world. At the time, Rabbi Wernick also pledged to call upon the Jewish Agency to become involved in the cause of religious pluralism in Israel.
"This resolution sends an important message to the leadership of Israel and to Jews around the world that the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel regarding the right to freedom of conscious and worship in Israel have yet to be realized and that we are not going to give up on working toward their realization," said Rabbi Wernick. “The Jewish Agency provides the only table where these issues can be addressed on behalf of the Jewish people. As the largest organization of Conservative Judaism in the world, United Synagogue has an important role to play at this table. Together with our partners of conscious, we fulfilled part of our mission, with the drafting and approval of this important resolution,” he said.
The text of the resolution approved by the Jewish Agency for Israel appears below:
Prayer at the Western Wall of Har Harbayit
Whereas the Declaration of the State of Israel states that Israel will guarantee “freedom of religion [and] conscience:”
And whereas the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), through the work of its Committee for the Unity of the Jewish People, and financial support for the programs of diverse streams of Judaism, supports the availability in Israel of multiple approaches to Jewish religious life, so as to meet the religious expressions of as many Jews as possible;
And whereas the western wall of Har Habayit has for centuries been a holy place of prayer for the Jewish people;
And whereas Jewish women and men, of all streams of Judaism, desire the opportunity to pray at the western wall of Har Habayit in a manner that fulfills their religious expressions, and in an atmosphere of mutual respect and ahavat Yisrael;
Therefore The Jewish Agency for Israel, consistent with its solidarity with the commitment of the State of Israel in its Declaration of Independence to guarantee freedom of religion and conscience,
Hereby calls on the Chairman of the Executive of JAFI, consulting with the Committee for the Unity of the Jewish People, and working with the JAFI-Israel Government Coordinating Committee and other appropriate parties, including the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, to arrive at a satisfactory approach to the issue of prayer at the western wall of Har Habayot.
For further information, or to arrange an interview with Rabbi Wernick either in New York or in Israel, please contact Shira Dicker at 917.403.3989 or firstname.lastname@example.org.