Photo Credit: courtesy
Members of the Jewish Agency leadership at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall in November 2017

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Monday with the leaders of Judaism’s Conservative and Reform movements, both of which are very large in the United States but which have much smaller memberships in the Jewish State.

The meeting, which lasted an hour and a half, was the first in five years.

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The leaders of both movements have eschewed meetings with Israel’s prime minister since then-PM Benjamin Netanyahu reneged on an agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.

At that time, in June 2017, the Jewish Agency canceled a special dinner at the Knesset with Netanyahu to protest a decision to freeze implementation of a plan to build a prayer space where women and men could pray together, where women could be called to read the Torah, and where they could participate in the minyan.

The agreement would have upgraded and officially recognized the egalitarian prayer space as a state-recognized holy site. In addition, under the deal representatives of the non-Orthodox movements would also have had a voice on the governing body of the site.

Four years earlier, then-Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett launched the egalitarian prayer space which currently remains but is badly in need of repair.

Several people who were at Monday’s meeting told The Jerusalem Post they considered it to be very positive.

Bennett, who personally is an observant Jew, was praised by MK Alon Tal, a member of the Conservative movement and MK Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi, both of whom were present at the meeting.

The prime minister reportedly promised to significantly improve the physical infrastructure at the site and to ensure the right to pray at the Wall without being harassed.

Tal said that although he came to the meeting “ready to be militant,” Bennett “won him over.”

Kariv likewise said there were “good tidings” in the meeting but added they “must be translated into practical steps” at the Wall, “and in additional spheres.” The MK said he expects a clear road map in the months ahead to building a “proper” egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.

Bennett did not escape entirely unscathed, however: leaders from the hareidi-religious United Torah Judaism and Shas parties slammed the prime minister for the meeting.

“He is one of them,” UTJ’s Moshe Gafni said disparagingly of Bennett. Shas leader Arye Deri warned that the Western Wall is “not for sale or negotiation” and said Israelis would “defend the holy site with their bodies.” H

Deri added that if the Reform Movement brings a Torah scroll to the site this coming Friday – the beginning of Adar II – Shas members “will be there, and we will stop you,” according to The Jerusalem Post. “The Kotel is a red line,” he emphasized.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.