The real surprise in this latest iteration of the Kotel saga is not that the Israeli cabinet voted on Sunday to “freeze” the “historic” government agreement for an enhanced pluralistic prayer area at Judaism’s holiest place. After all, the charedi (ultra-Orthodox) parties have long placed the preservation of halacha over Jewish unity and notions of Jewish peoplehood. In fact, the other key cabinet decision made on Sunday, one which has a greater impact on the Jewish future, was to move up for a Knesset vote a bill that would give the charedi Chief Rabbinate full control over conversions. If it passes it could jeopardize any real chance of bringing hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking Israeli citizens into the fold.

The real surprise from the cabinet decisions was the strong, angry response from establishment American Jewish leaders, long known for defending Israel in the face of criticism. Perhaps their blunt and passionate expressions of outrage and betrayal may cause Jerusalem to reconsider the risk of alienating millions of diaspora Jews at a time when Israel needs all the support it can muster.

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