Minister of Religious Affairs seems to be backtracking his support for the Western Wall compromise
Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina) appeared to revisit his support for the 2016 Western Wall compromise deal to build a permanent mixed place for non-Orthodox prayer at the holy site on Saturday.
“The vast majority of Jews in Israel are Orthodox Jews, so I don’t think it’s fair to cede control of parts of the Western Wall to streams that do not represent the vast majority of Jews in Israel,” he said. Kahana said in an interview with public broadcaster Kan.
“I don’t necessarily support this framework,” he said of the 2016 proposal. “You have to study it, to see how you solve the problem. [religious] wars ”surrounding the Western Wall.
“Ultimately, I think we need to end the disagreements around the Western Wall, without ceding control of any kind to the denominations which represent a very small minority of Jews,” he added.
In an interview with The Times of Israel earlier this month, Kahana, an Orthodox minister who has advanced a series of far-reaching religious reforms on kashrut, endorsed the 2016 framework.
In 2016, the government of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a compromise deal to create a permanent pluralist prayer pavilion at the Western Wall after years of negotiations between Israel and diaspora leaders. But a year later, the then prime minister surrendered to pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners and froze the deal indefinitely.
Members of the current government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett have indicated that they are looking to revive the deal.
Kahana’s comments were condemned by Labor MP Gilad Kariv, who is also a reformist rabbi.
“Minister Matan Kahana’s remarks show that he has forgotten that the majority of Jews in Israel are not Orthodox, but rather secular or traditional, and the vast majority support the Western Wall framework and further compromises on religion and state, ”Kariv tweeted. “It is time for the minister to stop operating in accordance with the incitement of the Haredi parties, and [Religious Zionism MKs] Smotrich and Ben Gvir, but rather in the spirit of the government and its directions.
“The Western Wall plan is a framework of compromise that has won the support of Prime Minister Bennett in the past and it should be implemented quickly,” Kariv added.
In August, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai told The Times of Israel that reviving the deal was on the cabinet’s agenda and enjoyed broad support within the coalition, including by Bennett.
The original plan includes three key layouts: a common entrance to the main plaza of the Western Wall and the egalitarian prayer space; a new permanent pavilion significantly expanding the existing modest prayer bridge, which has served as a pluralistic prayer site since 2000; and, perhaps most controversially, a joint council comprising representatives from the liberal currents of Judaism and government officials who would be responsible for overseeing the site.
The small platform currently used for pluralistic prayer services is located in Davidson Archaeological Park, nestled in an area called Robinson’s Arch. It is out of sight of the current Orthodox prayer square, separated from it by the ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate, which is the only entrance for non-Muslims on the Temple Mount.
In her interview with Kan, Kahana also expressed support for allowing Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, adding that the government must act “wisely” given the sensitivities surrounding the flashpoint site.
“I think it is fair to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. I think ultimately it’s the holiest site in the world for Jews. We have to see how we can get there, in a calculated way, ”he said.
In recent months, it has been reported that Israel has quietly started to allow Jewish prayers on the Temple Mount, which appears to be a major change from the status quo that has existed at the holy site for decades.
The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of biblical temples. It is the site of the third holiest shrine in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israel captured the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War and extended sovereignty to Jerusalem. Keen to reduce friction with the Muslim world, however, and given that Orthodox sages generally advise against climbing the Temple Mount for fear of treading the sacred ground where the Temple’s Holy of Holies stood, Israel since 1967 has allowed to the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop Mt. Jews are allowed to visit under many restrictions, but not to pray.