Israel's government shocked American Jews on Sunday, nixing a breakthrough plan approved last year to allow mixed-gender religious services at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews have managed Israel's holy Jewish sites since 1967, with the strictest rules that divide the area for prayer at the Western Wall, according to gender. Women must pray in complete silence, with no group prayer, singing or reading of the Torah scrolls, as women do.
In 1988 'Women of the Wall' began monthly prayer services at the Kotel. According to the organization's website, Women of the Wall spent over 10 years, between 1989 and 2003, "in the first Supreme Court struggle for women's equal rights at the Western Wall. Various judicial agreements and decisions were rendered over the years, culminating in a January 2016 plan for a pluralistic prayer section of the Western Wall. Unfortunately, immediately after the plan was voted upon and passed by the Knesset, the ultra-Orthodox parties demonstrated against it and demanded that the agreement be rescinded.
According to the Washington Post:
Sunday’s decision to cancel the new Western Wall arrangement has drawn denunciations from liberal Jews in Israel and the United States. It also appeared to threaten Netanyahu’s fragile coalition, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman — head of a faction that represents secular Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union — vowing to fight back.
“It actually causes terrible harm to Jewish unity and to the alliance between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry,” Israeli media quoted him as saying.
“It’s a terrible day for women in Israel when the prime minister sacrifices their rights while kowtowing to a handful of religious extremists, who want to enforce their religious customs while intentionally violating the rights of the majority of the Jewish world,” said Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall.