(Andrew Friedman/TPS) Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky slammed a proposal by the Shas Party earlier this week to enshrine Orthodox practice in Israel’s legal code and to penalize non-Orthodox practices at the holy site with prison sentences and heavy fines.
In June, the government voted to approve the creation of a non-Orthodox prayer space at Robinson’s Archeological, south of the Western Wall plaza but along the same historic wall. Ultra-Orthodox and some Jewish Home Knesset members strongly opposed the move. Subsequently, however, Prime Minister Netanyahu backed off implementing the agreement, and Sunday’s proposal moves to undo it altogether.
Sharansky, who served nine years in Soviet prisons in the 1970s and ‘80s as a refusenik after trying to emigrate to Israel, said the bill would have “grave consequences” for relations between Israel and Diaspora Jews.
“The bill introduced in the Knesset yesterday regarding prayer at the Western Wall makes a mockery of all the efforts made by recent governments to ensure that the Western Wall is a place that unites, rather than divides, the Jewish people…. Based on the prime minister’s strong personal commitment to strengthening the Israel-Diaspora relationship, it is my fervent hope that this damaging bill will be summarily dismissed by a majority of the coalition and of the Knesset,” Sharansky wrote on Facebook.
The issue of non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall has been the subject of heated debate for many years, including near-monthly clashes between the Women of the Wall organization, which promotes prayer services for women at the start of each Hebrew month, including mixed-gender prayer rites and women’s Torah readings. Ultra-Orthodox protesters view the services as a provocation on a traditional holy site.