Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex prayer site at Western Wall

Israel freezes plan for mixed-sex prayer site at Western Wall

"The Women of the Wall will continue to worship at the women's section of the Western Wall with the Torah scroll, prayer shawls and phylacteries until equality for women arrives at the Wall as well".

Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall called it "a bad day for women in Israel" and accused the government of "kowtowing to a handful of religious extremists".

A statement from the Prime Miniter Benjamin Netanyahu's office said that he had tasked minister Tzachi Hanegbi and cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman with formulating a new plan. "Among the citizens of the State of Israel, there are thousands of people today who are stuck between a rock and a hard place, they are not recognized as citizens of equal value but on the other hand are required to perform all their civic duties".

Israel approved a plan in January 2016 to officially recognise a special mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall the holiest site where Jews can pray. In parallel, the government also approved a freeze on the Western Wall plan, meaning that the situation in Western Wall Plaza will remain as is and any request to renew the plans will require another government decision.

American Jews, who have long lamented Israel should be as accepting of their religious practices as they are of their financial and political support, have been pushing for the new prayer area and had warned that if the deal did not go through it would lead to a risky rupture with North American Jewry.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told the newspaper that "to hear the government of Israel make a statement today that the rights of non-Orthodox Jews don't matter is deeply distressing".

"For the first time, there is a real chance of converting tens of thousands through the model of converting children [with parental consent] used by Giyur Kahalacha", said Farber. "This is the core mission of the Jewish state - to be a home for all Jews ... it is unthinkable but the unthinkable just happened". Last week, the two parties proposed rescinding the 2016 decision.

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Anat Hoffman of the Israel Religious Action Center said they will appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

"Israel is turning its back on the institutions through which we love Israel".

The decision announced on Sunday comes after the haredi Orthdox United Torah Judaism party and the Sephardi Orthodox Shas party, both members of the current government, put pressure on Netanyahu to scrap the agreement, including threatening to leave the coalition government. "Five years ago, the prime minister asked me to bring all the sides together to create a solution where there would be one wall for one people", he said. "There is no room there for destructive factions whose only objective is to desecrate the site". But they still have very little political backing, and authorities have generally tended to regard them as a somewhat alien offshoot imported from North America that does not mesh with how religion is typically practiced in Israel.

Earlier on Sunday, before the decision was made, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman spoke out against a bill that would nix the proposed egalitarian space, saying that "it actually causes awful harm to Jewish unity and to the alliance between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry".

Yair Lapid, a leading opposition figure, accused Netanyahu of national irresponsibility and of forfeiting his role as leader of the Jewish people. "This is an insulting, irrational affront to the deep religious feelings of millions of Jews".

Israel has given up a plan to erect a "mixed zone" for men and women at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Israeli media reported Sunday, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frozen the initiative approved past year.

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