In a move praised by liberal Jewish sects, Israel has approved non-Orthodox Jewish prayer at the famous Western Wall prayer site in Jerusalem. The move, which was announced at an Israeli Cabinet meeting on Jan. 31, comes as the Israeli government shows its support for more liberal sects of Judaism rather than the hardline Orthodox faction.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to overcome Orthodox Jewish interests in his own government to pass the new legislation, reports ABC News.
“I know this is a sensitive topic, but I think it is an appropriate solution, a creative solution,” Netanyahu remarked at a cabinet meeting, according to ABC News.
The Western Wall is regarded as one of the most sacred sites in the Jewish faith, reports BBC. The wall is part of the structure surrounding the Holy Temples and is visited by millions of Jews every year.
Liberal Jewish groups hailed the decision of long sought-after access to one of Judaism’s most revered sites.
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), a group representing Reform and Conservative Jews, called the move a “dramatic, unprecedented and critical acknowledgement” of their ability to pray at the site.
“Though much work regarding the implementation of this decision still remains, it is because of our perseverance and commitment to Jewish peoplehood that we are measurably closer today to the ultimate symbol of that reality – one wall for one people,” the JFNA said in a statement, ABC News notes.
Women of the Wall (WOW), a group that has staged women’s prayers at the wall, praised the reform as granting them increased access to the holy site. Before the reforms, men and women had to pray at separate sections of the Western Wall.
“We have been fighting for 27 years," WOW cofounder Anat Hoffman said, according to BBC. "We were single when we started; we are grandmothers now. And what we have done is liberate another part of the wall that will be open to all. It will be tolerant and equal and friendly."
Before these reforms, the Western Wall was a divisive issue in the conflict between the Orthodox and liberal sects of Judaism in Israel. Shmuel Rabinowitz, Western Wall Rabbi, said that the wall had gone “from being a unifying site to one of incessant quarrels.”