(Yisrael Hayom) Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) on Sunday resigned from the Ministerial Committee on Holy Places, rather than protest expansion of a dedicated egalitarian prayer space for non-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall, Shaked’s departure follows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s removal of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (Likud) from the committee last week over Regev’s refusal to support his plan for an expanded prayer plaza for Reform and Conservative Jews.
PM Netanyahu appointed Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) to replace Shaked on the committee.
Shaked has recently come under pressure by opponents of the plan, who include both haredi and religious Zionist rabbis, as well as some archaeologists, whose objection is rooted in considerations of historic preservation.
Netanyahu on Sunday criticized the ministers who have refused to support his move to create the egalitarian prayer space, saying “I’ll handle this.”
Last week, dozens of rabbis, including well-known religious Zionist leaders, as opposed to haredim, signed a letter to Shaked urging her to vote against the proposal.
“We have learned that [on] Sunday, the prime minister intends to have the cabinet vote on the appointment of a new chair of the Ministerial Committee on Holy Places approve the construction of a Reform [prayer] plaza at the Western Wall. Such a plaza would add insult to injury to the situation that exists today, in which space for prayer has been allotted to an anti-Zionist movement that attacks what Israel holds sacred that encourages our people to assimilate,” wrote the rabbis.
“We are appealing to you as a member of the Ministerial Committee and are offering to support you in stringently opposing the approval of the [egalitarian] prayer space. It is clear to us that as a representative of the national camp, which safeguards Jewish tradition and the values of our eternal Torah, you will not lend your hand to the desecration and abandonment of a remnant of our Temple to those who hold its sanctity in contempt,” the letter continued.
“The 17th of Tammuz [the day the Roman army breached the walls of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.] … the day the destruction began that we have been mourning for 2,000 years, is the time to strengthen our physical and spiritual grip on Jerusalem as a whole and the Western Wall, the place the Holy Spirit never leaves, in particular,” enjoined the rabbis.
The letter from the rabbis to Shaked was coordinated by a nonprofit group with the self-declared mission of protecting the sanctity of the Western Wall. The group said this weekend that “the decision rests with Shaked, and in light of her clear statement that she would consult with rabbis, we have prepared a letter for her that includes a clear statement from hundreds of rabbis that the proposal to build a prayer space for Reform [Jews] is not up for discussion.
“This move by the prime minister is a gambit designed to placate the Reform Jews for political reasons, [and] it hurts the holiest place to the Jewish people,” said the group. “The time has come to stop this unnecessary battle by Reform Jews and focus on the wishes of the Jewish people in Zion rather than on potential donors.”