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Liberal Jewish groups take battle over holy site to court

October 06, 2016 - 11:02 AM

JERUSALEM - Groups representing liberal streams of Judaism appealed to Israel's Supreme Court Thursday to force the government to implement its decision on equal prayer at a key Jewish holy site.

Israel's government agreed in January to enlarge and recognize a mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem. The wall, believed to be a retaining wall of the Second Temple, is the holiest site where Jews can pray. The compromise came after Israeli and American Jewish leaders negotiated with Israeli authorities for three years.

But the prayer site was never established.

The groups' legal petition signals their frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government, which is propped up by two ultra-Orthodox parties. The Western Wall is run by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who opposes liberal Jewish customs at the holy site.

Among the plaintiffs in the case were the Israeli branches of the Reform and Conservative movements, along with Women of the Wall, a group of women demanding gender equality at the site. The groups accuse the government of violating the right to equality and freedom of worship by not implementing its decision.

"Netanyahu has chosen to make small survivalist deals with the ultra-Orthodox parties instead of representing the will of his citizens," said Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall.

Yair Sheleg, an expert in religion and state at the nonpartisan think-tank the Israel Democracy Institute, said in a statement the court would likely find in favour of the liberal groups. He speculated that Israeli leaders were shifting responsibility to the court to implement its decision "so they can say the liberal, secular Supreme Court decided this, not the government."

A spokesman for Netanyahu did not comment on the court case.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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