Historic Achievement – Pluralism at the Kotel

Letter from Israel

On January 31, the Israeli government passed a historic and unprecedented resolution legalizing and officially recognizing pluralistic prayer at the Kotel (the Western Wall in Jerusalem).

Until now, Azarat Yisrael, the small praying plaza allowing pluralistic and egalitarian prayer, was separated from the other Kotel plazas. Following this resolution, the same wall to the south will now be an integral and contiguous part of the Kotel complex. There will be one entrance to the Kotel through which people can go to the Orthodox area or to the pluralistic section. 

The main points of the agreement are as follows: 

FOR THE FIRST TIME – Complete and clear Israeli legal recognition of egalitarian prayer in the spirit of Reform and Conservative Judaism as part of the custom of Jewish holy sites. 

FOR THE FIRST TIME – A joint government office with legally binding authority and government funding and official representation from the Reform and Conservative Movements. 

FOR THE FIRST TIME – Any visitor to the Kotel and any family from Israel or from abroad celebrating a Bar or Bat Mitzvah will be able to choose between a separated prayer service with a Mechitza (barrier) between women and men and an egalitarian and mixed prayer service. 

FOR THE FIRST TIME – Legally binding recognition of the official status of the upper plaza and its usage for ceremonies and national and public events with no separation between men and women and without the coercion of religious norms which are not accepted by the majority of Israelis (such as the prevention of women from singing). 

FOR THE FIRST TIME – The Reform and Conservative Movements, Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) have teamed up for a joint and coordinated agreement with the Israeli government regarding matters of religion and state in Israel. 

This extraordinary and historic accomplishment is the result of the ongoing effort to instill Israeli society with the understanding that there is more than one way to be Jewish in Israel. 

We wanted to take this opportunity to thank the San Francisco-based Federation for being our partner in this historic achievement by providing ongoing partnership and support in establishing new congregations, bringing pluralistic Jewish education to Israeli schools and other educational institutions, and in helping Israelis from all parts of Israeli society rediscover their Judaism, all of which has enabled this achievement to take place. 

The San Francisco-based Federation has been a strategic partner in making the Israel Reform Movement a legitimate alternative in the country and a force with which tens of thousands of Israelis relate. We look forward to continuing our work with your Federation in leading Israel’s Jewish renaissance and in making Reform Judaism a trademark in Israeli society as an inclusive, welcoming stream of Judaism. 

If you haven’t seen it yet, I invite you to click here to watch the video we filmed live at the Kotel upon learning that the resolution had passed.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv is the executive director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), Israel's liberal Jewish religious movement, and a constituent member of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. IMPJ is one of the Federation's grantees in Israel.

Categories: Israel, Overseas, Grantees


February 03, 2016


Rabbi Gilad Kariv