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French, British Jewish Leaders Make Divergent Statements On Kotel Controversy

(JTA) — Leaders of British and French Jews issued divergent statements about the controversy over egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

In London, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, recently condemned the decision of the Israeli government not to implement a plan to expand separate spaces for mixed prayer at the Western Wall.

The suspension “will precipitate disharmony between Jews both in Israel and elsewhere in the Jewish world,” Arkush wrote in a statement, calling it a “desecration of God’s name.”

But his counterpart in France, Francis Kalifat of the CRIF federation, did not criticize the move, instead urging all parties to show sensibility and unity.

In Britain, Reform and Masorti Jews, who practice mixed prayer with no separation between men and women, make up around 27 percent of all registered synagogue members, according to a report published last week. But in France, the community is predominantly Sephardi Orthodox.

Kalifat, the president of the umbrella of French Jewish communities and organizations, stopped short of criticizing the Israeli government’s decision when asked about it earlier this month during an interview with Israel’s i24 news channel. He called for unity among Jews and on people who consider withholding donations to Israel over the decision to “return to their senses.” Kalifat said he personally regrets that “a compromise was not made.”

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