Skip To Content
Breaking News

Reform and Conservative Leaders Plan Western Wall Fightback as Prayer Deal Hopes Falter

Frustrated by a series of recent setbacks for Jewish pluralism in Israel, Conservative and Reform movement leaders have decided to fight back. On Thursday, in defiance of longstanding custom at the site, they will hold a mixed-prayer service for men and women at the Western Wall, in plain sight of the Orthodox-run segregated prayer area.

The mixed prayer afternoon “mincha” service, scheduled for 17:00 P.M., will be attended by prominent rabbis and lay leaders of the movement. It will be convened in the area known as the “upper plaza,” located just above the main segregated prayer area. 

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservative movement would often hold prayer services in the upper plaza, but it has refrained from doing so ever since the area known as Robinson’s Arch, at the southern reach of the wall, was opened. 

Robinson’s Arch, unlike the upper plaza, is not visible from the segregated prayer area. The upper plaza today mainly serves as an area where visitors to the Jewish holy site can congregate.

In a letter emailed on Wednesday morning headlined “It is time to act,” Conservative movement leaders in Israel wrote to their members and supporters: “We have no choice but to fight for our right to pray at the Western Wall in our own way.”

Both Conservative and Reform leaders have become increasingly frustrated with the government for not following through with its decision, approved in January, to build a new egalitarian space for their members in the southern expanse of the Western Wall, near Robinson’s Arch. After the plan was approved, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition to beg out.

The non-Orthodox movements have also been outraged by a new bill meant to circumvent a Supreme Court ruling that would have allowed Conservative and Reform converts to use state-sanctioned mikvehs (ritual baths), despite prohibitions imposed by the Orthodox authorities. 

But the immediate trigger for today’s call to arms was a first-of-its-kind Orthodox prayer service held on Tuesday at Robinson’s Arch, long considered the domain of the non-Orthodox movements. For Conservative movement leaders, the decision by Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar not only to preside over a prayer service there, but also to set up a temporary barrier at the site for separating men and women, was seen as a blatant infringement of their territory.

Having all but given up hope that the government’s plan for an egalitarian space at the Western Wall will ultimately materialize, Conservative leaders in Israel say they will demand that the upper plaza, where Thursday’s prayer service will be held, be allocated to them on a permanent basis. 

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.