A letter sent Wednesday by two leading American askanim to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and MK Yuval Steinitz pleaded with the two officials to “maintain the kedushat haKotel as it always was and as it always should remain.”
The letter is signed by Mr. Shlomo Werdiger, chairman of the Agudah’s Board of Trustees, and Dr. Irving Lebovics, the organization’s director for the state of California. They have signed the message regarding the Kosel in their capacities as co-chairmen of Am Echad, a project of the Agudah which led a mission this past February to meet with ranking Israeli officials largely intended to show a united opposition to and change in the status quo of the Kosel plaza.
The letter reiterates their opposition to any plans that would open up a larger area of the Kosel Plaza to prayer groups that are not in accordance with halachah.
“As you consider the future of the Kotel Plaza, we respectfully urge that the views of committed American Jews, whose who come regularly to pray at this most holy site, be considered seriously,” reads the letter. “The Kotel Hamaaravi has been the single most unifying place in the Jewish world. Please don’t Balkanize this holy place for the sake of those whose only interest is to try to demonstrate their relevance rather than use this makom kadosh as a place of heartfelt prayer and connection with the Creator.”
Under strong pressure from American-based Reform and Conservative groups, the prime minister has formed a special Knesset committee to determine whether to accommodate the demands of non-Orthodox groups to have an expanded and more visible area for “egalitarian” prayer at the Kosel. In recent weeks, three Knesset members resigned from the committee as each voiced their hesitancy to approve the plan which is backed by PM Netanyahu, and who has now taken over leadership of the committee. The Prime Minister also named MK Steinitz, the Minister of Finance, who also is known to be supportive of the expansion plan, to replace one of the resigning members.
The letter draws attention to the recent shifts in the committee.
“As you have seen, ministers of your own government cannot bring themselves to undermine the long-standing custom of this holy area.”