Square One

Square One

Support is waning for Natan Sharansky’s proposal to allow all Jews to worship freely at the Western Wall, and that should be dismaying  for those committed to reduce tensions at Judaism’s holiest site.

That’s because Sharansky’s proposal, while far from perfect, was the best idea to date short of cutting one side or the other out of the equation.

If this plan fails, one wonders where we go from here.

As you recall, Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, was charged by Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to find a solution to the confrontations between police, haredi and liberal Jews at the Western Wall.

Members of Women of the Wall have tried to worship at the site, known in Hebrew as the Kotel, while singing, wearing tallit and reading for the Torah. This offends many haredi Jews who insist worship at the Wall should be governed by “local custom.”

For a while, it seemed Sharansky had found an answer, proposing to expand the Wall’s plaza to include Robinson’s Arch, an archeological site immediately adjacent. Robinson’s Arch would be an equal part of the plaza, but designated for egalitarian worship. Even the haredi rabbi in charge of the Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, originally said he could live with the compromise.

Now, Rabinowitz is distancing himself from his earlier support. His office just released a statement saying that American “haredi and Orthodox communities expressed a decisive stand against any compromise.”

Meanwhile, Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a women’s prayer group that meets every month at the Western Wall’s women’s section, on Monday called the plan “not relevant to our needs.”

All this comes in the wake of a Jerusalem District Court ruling last week, that activities of Women of the Wall were not illegal, that five members in question should not have been detained by police and that the term “local custom” does not necessarily mean Orthodox custom.

Hoffman told JTA that the ruling “allows Women of the Wall to pray how we always wished — with women of all denominations in the women’s section, with our prayer shawls and Torah and shofar.”

She may be right, but the goal here is to create a worship environment where all Jews can pray freely without stepping on the rights of others.

That goal remains elusive as both sides return to Square One.

Women of the Wall have a right to worship freely at the Kotel, so do the haredi. Without arriving at a solution both sides can accept, the confrontations will continue dividing Jews in Israel and around the world.

But it need not be that way. The very Orthodox and the very Reform can work together. We’ve seen it done in this country (Pittsburgh, in fact); there’s no reason our brethren in Israel can’t do the same.

But it will involve all sides sitting down and talking together — not shouting at each other. No one will get everything they want; that’s the first point on which there must be agreement.