Regev Responds

Pro, Con, and In-between

The Kotel Agreement – Multiple Perspectives

The picture that emerges now is fuller and more complex. On the side of those involved in reaching the agreement, additional perspectives have been emerging. Below, we will attempt to organize the primary views and arguments that were heard following the agreement, both pro, con, and those in-between.

It’s been three weeks since the dramatic agreement over pluralistic worship at the Kotel was reached with the Reform and Conservative movements and Women of the Wall. In essence, it designates and upgrades the Robinson’s Arch area of the Kotel for egalitarian prayer services (men & women together) and women’s minyanim.

The picture that emerges now is fuller and more complex than it seemed when the agreement was approved by the government. On the side of the naturally victorious voices heard from those involved in reaching the agreement, additional perspectives have been emerging, as to the agreement and its significance. Below, we will attempt to organize the primary views and arguments (and provide links to the articles that support them) that were heard following the agreement, both pro, con, and those in between.

Let me stress at the outset that in the name of “Jewish unity” there are those who welcome the agreement, seeing it as an essential prescription for preserving unity. There are also those who criticize the agreement, expressing regret as to the opportunity that existed to maintain at the Kotel plaza, even if it required greater openness and tolerance vis-à-vis the Women of the Wall, an opportunity missed by the decision to resolve the conflict by physical separation, which is an antithesis to unity. Lastly, there are those who criticize the agreement from the opposite direction, maintaining that there can only be one unity, which accepts the yoke of halakha, and therefore, creating a site that facilitates worship options that violate halakha is a harsh blow to Jewish unity.

For that matter, we too, of course, support unity and advocate it, but it is important for us to stress that “unity” should not be confused with “uniformity.” True unity can only be attained on the basis of tolerance and acknowledgement of Jewish diversity, freedom of choice and respect for the principles of religious freedom and equality. Every attempt to enforce worship and lifestyle, especially when they represent a minority view among the Jewish people and are removed from the reality of life of the overwhelming majority of Israel’s and the world’s Jewish population, does not deserve the title of “unity,” and cannot serve as a basis for resolving the harsh disputes over matters of religion and state in Israel.


Pro perspectives

If an agreement were not reached, it was realized, it would have presented a threat to the relationship between Israel and American Jewry.

Support for the agreement comes primarily from members of the non-Orthodox movements and Women of the Wall. There are also Orthodox voices, which vehemently oppose non-Orthodox Judaism, but perceive the Kotel agreement as the lesser of two evils. They prefer granting complete control over the traditional Kotel plaza to the ultra-Orthodox establishment, rather than sharing the space with the non-Orthodox and liberal Orthodox communities.

  1. It represents a dramatic move forward in recognizing the non-Orthodox streams. It features (for the first time ever) the appointment of their representatives as members of a national council of import, anchored in state law.
  2. It establishes a model for compromise, which recognizes the legitimacy of Jewish pluralism, the equality of the non-Orthodox streams, and the possibility of women’s public worship, including Torah reading, all on the basis of the agreement reached between the parties, instead of litigation.
  3. In addition to assigning the southern part of the Kotel for prayers and ceremonies of non-Orthodox Judaism and women’s minyanim, it was also agreed to “free” the upper Kotel plaza from the limitations that had prevented egalitarian ceremonies from being held there. It was now agreed that this plaza may serve for national ceremonies without separating men & women.
  4. It includes a significant upgrade of the prayer area in the Robinson’s Arch section by greatly expanding the space constructed for worship, creating a joint entry way for both sections of the Kotel, allocating considerable governmental resources for the infrastructure, maintenance and marketing of the new section.
  5. Since the Ministry of Education ordered mandatory visits of all schools to Jerusalem, including the Kotel, the agreements presents an important potential opportunity to expose all Israeli school children to the possibility of ritual pluralism, the existence of the streams and to religious feminism.
  6. It grants absolute authority over the traditional Kotel plaza to the ultra-Orthodox establishment, officially rendering the space an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, to the exclusion of non-Orthodox and liberal Orthodox worship practices.
  7. It is an important step in advancing Israel-Diaspora relations, and providing the non-Orthodox streams with the feeling that the government of Israel is interested in them and their ability to feel at home in Israel. If an agreement were not reached, it was realized, it would have presented a threat to the relationship between Israel and American Jewry, and consequently between Israel and the USA.


The compromise with Women of the Wall: the Haredim bless the "total separation" (Hebrew),
Yaki Admakar, Walla!, Jan. 28, 2016
Historic agreement on Western Wall ends long battle,
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Jewish Journal, Feb. 3, 2016
This IS a compromise,
Rabbi Stanley Davids, RRFEI Executive Committee, Jan. 31, 2016
1, 2, 3, 7
The Kotel compromise: A time for rejoicing,
Rabbi Denise Eger, Jewish Journal, Feb. 3, 2016
1, 4, 7
Regarding the Kotel compromise,
Rabbi Pamela Frydman, Times of Israel blogs, Feb. 11, 2016
The Kotel compromise: Recognizing there is more than one way to be a Jew, Rabbi Laura Geller, Jewish Journal, Feb. 3, 2016 1, 7
The Kotel is just the beginning (Hebrew),
Mickey Gitzin (Israel Hofsheet), ynet, Feb. 4, 2016
1, 2
The compromise is an earthquake (Hebrew),
Yizhar Hess, ynet, Jan. 31, 2016
1, 2, 3, 4, 7
In favor of the agreement (Hebrew),
Zvi Hauser, former Israeli Cabinet Secretary, Feb. 8, 2016
Historic agreement on Western Wall ends long battle,
JTA Staff, Jweekly, Feb. 4, 2016
1, 2, 4, 7
Women of the Wall victory can teach us a few things,
Batya Kallus (WOW Board Member), 972mag, Feb. 5, 2016
2, 7
Better seats at the back of the bus?,
Rabbi Barry Leff, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 4, 2016
1, 4
Letter to the Chief Rabbis of Israel (Hebrew),
Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Feb. 22, 2016
God’s Presence and the Western Wall,
Rabbi Barry Leff, The Neshamah Center, Feb. 11, 2016
A new vision of Kotel future: Part one,
Bonnie Riva Ras (WOW Board Member), Jerusalem Post, Jan. 31, 2016
Making History at the Kotel,
Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 31, 2016
1, 2, 3, 7
Why one haredi leader supports Western Wall deal with ‘heretical’ Reform Jews,
Ben Sales, JTA, Feb. 29, 2016
One journey for one people,
Natan Sharansky, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 18, 2016
Western Wall deal hailed as historic victory for non-Orthodox,
Steve Linde, Jeremy Sharon, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 1, 2016
1, 2, 7
American Reform leaders see Kotel deal as foundation for further gains,
Sam Sokol, The Jerusalem Post, Feb. 23, 2016
1, 2


Con perspectives

The battle over the Kotel, seen from the wider perspective of religion-state issues, is marginal; and therefore the significance of the agreement is marginal in the greater scheme of things.

Opposition to the agreement comes from five main directions: a) the “Original Women of the Wall" and other Orthodox feminists, b) liberal Orthodox figures who view the agreement as surrendering the goal of unity and degrading the Kotel, c) liberal Jewish women and men who support the cause of Women of the Wall but oppose the concessions made by them, d) ultra-Orthodox figures who criticize the concessions made to the non-Orthodox streams and the Women of the Wall, e) observers who dispute the importance and benefit of the agreement, and f) archaeological circles and Palestinian / Waqf authorities.

  1. The agreement represents a betrayal of the original values and mission of the Women of the Wall, and the women who remained committed to them, as well as to other Modern Orthodox women who are interested in dignified prayer options in the women’s section of the traditional Kotel plaza, including reading from the Torah and other elements of worship that the haredi leadership rejects. The agreement excludes them from the women’s section of the wall, which is where they want to be, and exiles them to the “pluralistic” section, which is not perceived as an integral prayer area of the Kotel, and they want no part of. The agreement was made without consulting them, without involving them in the negotiations, and without their consent. They also point to the strong counter arguments voiced by the Women of the Wall, when the idea of offering the Robinson’s Arch section as an alternative arose during the Ne’eman Commission’s deliberations in the 1980s, and again when Natan Sharansky raised the idea a few years ago. These opponents maintain that those counter arguments still hold and the agreement does not sufficiently respond to them.
  2. The agreement explicitly strengthens the ultra-Orthodox control of the prayer area at the “traditional” section of the Kotel, and therefore creates greater obstacles for the battle of the women who wish to stay in that area, and not transfer their worship to the southern section.
  3. The agreement is based on a “Solomonic” solution, namely, instead of finding ways to strengthen Jewish unity at this unique site such that all shades of Judaism and diaspora Jewry can converge there, the agreement opted for separation and division between the different groupings of the Jewish people. A number of liberal Orthodox figures have reacted to the agreement, saying that it would have been preferable to acquiesce to the demands of the Women of the Wall, even as these demands were not sanctioned by halakha, in order to preserve the greater principles of Jewish unity. Others held that in the interest of unity, the Kotel should never have been regarded as a synagogue, and that public worship, bar mitzvah ceremonies, etc., should be prevented there, as they had never taken place at the Kotel historically. These voices maintain that rabbinic authority of any kind should not be in control of the Kotel, and that securing the ability of every individual to express his religious sentiments as he/she desires, qua individuals, is the only way to ensure that everyone may indeed feel at home there, and that there is room for all.
  4. A number of ultra-Orthodox elements, as well as the Chief Rabbinate, reacted negatively, expressing animus toward the agreement (even though it is clear that key individuals in the ultra-Orthodox politics were party to the agreement, at least in silence, and that their representatives, while voting against it, nevertheless believe that it was the lesser evil). After the government approved the agreement, Ashkenazi rabbinic leadership opposition to it has been gaining momentum, especially for the following reasons: it represents the first, official recognition of the State that is not based upon Supreme Court orders of Reform and Conservative Judaism as partners in the administration of religious life (by granting control of a section of the Kotel to an official Council at which they are represented). Also, it enhances the visibility of and the options for holding non-Orthodox Jewish worship in Israel, and in particular at the holy site of the Kotel, all of which will come at the expense of the State. They are also concerned that the Kotel compromise model may become a precedent for other conflicts.
  5. A number of observers describe the agreement as a surrender to the ultra-Orthodox, and as lacking real importance and meaning. According to them, it does not really represent a compromise, but a surrender to ultra-Orthodox pressure, while further strengthening their sole and exclusive authority over the traditional Kotel plaza, and removing dissidents from it. According to them, the Haredim have not given up anything because they did not have control over the Robinson’s Arch area, and the outcome of the agreement is the transfer the non-Orthodox worshippers and Women of the Wall “beyond the fence,” removed from the Kotel area in a manner in which they will neither be seen nor heard. Some of them hold that in practice only a small number of people have a real interest in the agreement, while the majority of the Israeli Jewish public is neither interested, nor is likely to come to the alternative, non-Orthodox section. Some further stress that while historically the said southern section was an integral part of the western wall, nevertheless, in the public mind it is perceived as an area of lesser importance and religious significance.
  6. The agreement is based on the principle of “separate but equal,” but as has been repeatedly stated, once the basis is “separate,” it cannot be “equal.” Moreover, the battle over the Kotel, seen from the wider perspective of religion-state issues, is marginal; and therefore the significance of the agreement is marginal in the greater scheme of things.


Mixed emotions about the Kotel compromise,
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Jewish Journal, Feb. 3, 2016
Am Yisrael does not feel comfortable at the Kotel (Hebrew),
MK Rachel Azaria, News1, Feb. 4, 2016
Activist women say new plan ‘banishes’ them from Western Wall,
Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel, Feb. 4, 2016
1, 2, 5, 6
The Kotel decision: A Sephardic Jew responds,
Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Jewish Journal, Feb. 3, 2016
Shut down the Kotel!,
Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Times of Israel blogs, Feb. 17, 2016
Against dividing the Kotel (Hebrew),
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Kipa, Jan. 28, 2016
Not a Victory,
Dr. Phyllis Chesler (“Original Women of the Wall
), Tablet Magazine, Feb. 3, 2016
1, 2, 5, 6
Setting the record straight: Women of the Wall,
Dr. Phyllis Chesler (“Original Women of the Wall
), Times of Israel, Feb. 5, 2016
1, 2
A Heralded Compromise That STILL Leaves Out Women,
Tamra Dollin, JOFA’s The Torch, Feb. 3, 2016
Compromise Creates Two Western Walls for Two Peoples,
Yair Ettinger, Haaretz, Jan. 31, 2016
“He can’t deal with pressure” – the Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem oppose Rabbi Rabinowitz (Hebrew), Guy Ezra, Srugim, Jan. 31, 2016 4
Orthodox Women May Stand to Lose Under Sharansky’s Proposal,
Shayna Finman, Jewish Press, Apr. 30, 2013
Why the Kotel Compromise Just Isn’t Good Enough,
Gabriela Geselowitz, The Forward, Jan. 31, 2016
2, 6
The paratroopers continue to cry, (Hebrew)
Israel Harel, nrg, Feb. 7, 2016
Rabbi Rabinowitz is an Inquisitor (Hebrew),
Dr. Hannah Kehat, Arutz7, Feb. 5, 2016
Kotel Deal Cuts Both Ways,
Francine Klagsbrun, The Jewish Week, Feb. 9, 2016
Chief Rabbi says Kotel allocation a mistake,
Rabbi David Lau (Chief Rabbi of Israel), Arutz7, Feb. 6, 2016
When is a compromise not a compromise?,
Cheryl Birkner Mack (“Original Women of the Wall
), Jewish Journal, Feb. 26, 2016
1, 2, 5
Center for Women’s Justice: We oppose any agreement that prevents women from praying with tefillin and talitot at the Kotel (Hebrew),
Judy Maltz & Yair Ettinger, Haaretz, Jan. 30, 2016
1, 2, 5
Deal or no deal: We shall not be moved,
Dr. Shulamit S. Magnus (“Original Women of the Wall
), Jerusalem Post, Jan. 28, 2016
1, 2, 5
What’s behind the curtain in the Kotel deal?,
Dr. Shulamit S. Magnus (“Original Women of the Wall
), Jerusalem Post, Feb. 25, 2016
2, 5, 6
The Real Women of the Wall Aren’t Going Anywhere,
Dr. Vanessa Ochs (“Original Women of the Wall
), The Forward, Feb. 2, 2016
1, 2, 5
Why we will not negotiate our rights to pray at the Western Wall,
Dr. Vanessa Ochs (“Original” Women of the Wall), Religion News Service, Feb. 5, 2016
1, 2, 5
Western Wall Prayer Space Deal Is a Capitulation to Fundamentalists,
Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz, Jan. 31, 2016
What’s So Holy About the Western Wall Anyway?,
Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz, Feb. 5, 2016
Reform Jews should be sent to the dogs (Hebrew),
MK Meir Porush, Haredim10, Feb. 1, 2016
The Kotel lost. We all lost. (Hebrew),
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz (Rabbi of the Western Wall), ynet, Feb. 2, 2016
Not a victory but a bitter defeat,
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz (Rabbi of the Western Wall), Jerusalem Post, Feb. 3, 2016
Does Anyone Really Benefit from ‘Balkanizing’ the Kotel?,
Rabbi Avi Shafran (Agudath Israel of America), Feb. 2, 2016
Ultra-Orthodox surrender = recognition of Reform (Hebrew),
Rabbi Chaim Shaulson, In the Haredi world, Feb. 5, 2016
Is the Kotel Compromise Another ‘Status Quo’ Agreement?,
Alden Solovy, The Forward, Feb. 23, 2017
1, 2, 5
Giving away the Kotel,
Alden Solovy, Times of Israel, Feb. 5, 2017
1, 2, 5, 6
The Kotel Deal Isn’t Good Enough,
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, The Jewish Week, Feb. 23, 2016
Women’s prayer: A voice from the heart,
Andrea Wiese (“Original Women of the Wall
), Times of Israel blogs, Feb. 7, 2016
1, 2


‘In-between’ perspectives

The agreement reflects, in a remarkable way that cannot be over-exaggerated, the potential influence that American Jewry has over the Prime Minister’s policies on matters of religion & state.

In this section, you may find diverse perspectives, including that of Hiddush, which in addition to recognizing the importance of the agreement and its great benefits, also acknowledge the heavy price required to reach the agreement; and are concerned that it will bring about mixed results – some of which are negative.

In addition to the above mentioned angles, both pro and con, which reveal the many relevant and often conflicting considerations, pointing to the complexity of the real picture, one may point to the following considerations:

  1. Beyond the tangible and symbolic benefit contained in the agreement to both the non-Orthodox movements and to Women of the Wall, one should only take into consideration that in the larger scheme of challenges and issues involving the religion-state conflict, both from a domestic Israeli perspective, and from the perspective of Israel-diaspora relations, the issue of the Kotel is not the most important one. The intensive handling of this issue did not follow a strategic analysis that weighed the different action priorities and then selected this issue over others. Another issue bearing much greater strategic importance and far more reaching consequences for a much greater number of people, both in Israel and in the diaspora, is the battle over the right to family and marriage freedom. The three years that the movements invested in the Kotel negotiations were years in which, in effect, other areas of struggle were neglected. The agreement reached, as the movements’ expressions of gratitude to PM Netanyahu for advancing it, as well as the use he himself made of the agreement and the multi-year period of negotiations that led to it, will make it difficult to carry out an assertive and effective battle on the other pending issues, at least in the short term. Not only does this agreement not really lead to the advancement of a resolution on the other conflictual matters in the area of pluralism and marriage equality, but one may fear that it handicaps the battle for change.
  2. The hopes expressed that the Kotel agreement model will now serve to resolve the other conflicts involving the status of the non-Orthodox streams and marriage equality do not attach sufficient weight to the fact that it was relatively simple to reach the agreement over the Kotel. The existence of ‘Kotel B’ was never under the control of the ultra-Orthodox authorities, and was available to offer to the streams and the Women of the Wall. On the other hand, in other religion-state matters, the analogy of ‘Kotel B’ is non-existent, and these areas, such as Jewish marriage, divorces, kashrut, public mikva’ot, etc., are under the exclusive control of the Orthodox Rabbinate. Therefore, any change will require reducing the ultra-Orthodox authorities’ monopoly. Hence – it is difficult to envisage how such changes can take place by agreement, negotiation, or willingness on the part of Netanyahu to threaten his political position by requiring concessions of the rabbinic and political ultra-Orthodox establishment. The joint, tough stand of the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Jewish Home party, demanding counter legislation to undo the Supreme Court’s ruling on the use of public mikva’ot for the immersion of non-Orthodox converts suggests the anticipated strength of the opposition for any change in the other areas. Therefore the relevance of the Kotel compromise model for resolving other conflicts is limited.
  3. One cannot be unimpressed with the reactions of a number of figures in liberal Orthodoxy (see #3 under 'Pro Perspectives') who put forth a model and desire for unity, which does not impose uniformity. Alas, their views do not enjoy sufficient impact on the rabbinic and political religious establishment at this time. It may be that advancing Jewish unity would be better achieved by following the model of separation, which is at the core of the Kotel agreement. Thomas Jefferson offered this insight in 1820 when he wrote his Jewish friend Dr. Jacob De La Motta on the occasion of the dedication of the synagogue in Savannah, GA: “in religion, unlike in politics, divided we stand, united we fall!”
  4. The agreement reflects, in a remarkable way that cannot be over-exaggerated, the potential influence that American Jewry has over the Prime Minister’s policies on matters of religion & state. The basis for this is the PM’s deep understanding of the strategic importance of the American Jewish community for the essential interests of the State of Israel and the support it needs. Netanyahu had not really pushed for a resolution of this conflict during the previous 26 years of the continuous existence of the Women of the Wall, until the matter became the focus in the US Jewish community. There was a dramatic rising up of voices of protest among Jewish leaders and philanthropists, criticizing the Israeli government’s policy on this matter. This insight demonstrates the potential of advancing the necessary changes in the area of religious freedom and equality by close collaboration between Israeli activists and organizations and their counterparts in the diaspora, particularly in the USA. The question that remains is: will it be possible to rally such massive support, and does the Kotel agreement handicap this?


Why the Western Wall deal is a victory for now, but not forever,
Rabbi Debra Bennet, JTA, Feb. 8, 2016
After Historic Deal At Kotel, Next Steps Seen As Elusive,
Hannah Dreyfus, The Jewish Week, Feb. 3, 2016
1, 2
The Kotel agreement: The good & the bad,
Hiddush press release, Jan. 31, 2016
The Wall of Disputes,
Ariel Picard, Shalom Hartman Institute, Feb. 15, 2016
Is the Kotel Deal Merely a Fig Leaf For Rabbinic Tyranny?,
Rabbi Uri Regev and Hiddush Chairman Stanley Gold, The Forward’s Sisterhood blog, Feb. 2, 2016
1, 4
After Kotel compromise, dramatic changes still needed,
Rabbi Uri Regev, The Jewish Journal, Feb. 3, 2016
1, 4
Is the Kotel compromise good for the Jews? (Hebrew),
Rabbi Uri Regev, ynet, Feb. 6, 2016
The two Kotels solution: Cheer it with a grain of sadness,
Shmuel Rosner, Jewish Journal, Feb. 1, 2016
Why the Kotel compromise matters – and doesn’t,
Ben Sales, Times of Israel, Feb. 1 2016
We Progressive Jews Are Celebrating the Western Wall Deal but We’re Not Naïve,
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, Haaretz, Feb. 1, 2016
1, 4


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