I’ve been writing about the Western Wall controversy and Women of the Wall since 2013, when I was still a starry-eyed blogger for the Times of Israel. Back then, I summed it up as follows:
“The question is: whose freedom of religion is in question here? Is it the freedom of the Women of the Wall to worship in any manner they so please, or is it the freedom of the Haredim to continue to worship as they always have at the Wall, for decades, that is the bone of contention? Because the two are mutually exclusive and this is something that is overlooked by a majority of people: the fact that by granting one group its freedom to worship, you take away that same freedom for the other group.”
Well, since that pretty much does sum it up, I’ve said all I have to say about the Women of the Wall and the Wall itself so that pretty much, it’s been effectively crossed off my list, a non-issue, a dead issue, somewhat like the dead girl in Love Story:
“What can you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. The Beatles. And me.”
(Did anyone really need Erich Segal to write another word after that tell-all intro?)
But *sigh* since the Wall is in the news, and since so many people have gotten their dander up misinterpreting the most recent decision by the Israeli Knesset to keep the entrance to the egalitarian prayer section at the wall where it is, and to keep the prayer section under the same management, I thought it might be useful for me to use this forum to tell the truth about the Wall, the controversy, and egalitarian prayer, once again.
Here’s the main thing you need to know:
Egalitarian prayer services are already held at the Wall, at a section of the Wall known as Robinson’s Arch. In fact, these mixed prayer services have been held at Robinson’s Arch for the past 15 years.
Author Caroline Glick explains the whole tempest in a teapot, but the gist is as I’ve stated above: THERE ALREADY IS AN EGALITARIAN PRAYER SPACE AT THE WALL. And in fact, the decision to put off honoring the resolution means the current section will be expanded and improved.
In short: no one is denying anyone the joys of mixed prayer at the Kotel.
But you’d never know these simple truths from reading the media. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, (JTA), a news agency similar to Reuters that outlets like the Times of Israel depend upon for stories, told a bold lie in the very first line of its piece on the Knesset decision:
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet has frozen a government decision to create an official egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.”
Nope. Not true. There ALREADY IS AN OFFICIAL EGALITARIAN PRAYER SECTION AT THE WESTERN WALL. The Knesset just decided not to hand management over to a different body and to keep the entrance in the same spot. But I said that already, didn’t I?
The follow-up story, filled with imprecations by American Jewish leaders against the Israeli government, something that would have been unheard of when I was a young girl growing up in Pittsburgh in the 60’s and 70’s, similarly paints a false picture.
“They’ve tried strongly worded statements. They’ve tried private meetings with the prime minister. They’ve tried negotiations, protest and prayer.”
(Reminds me of that old television commercial, “You’ve trying rubbing it out, and scrubbing it out, and still that dirty ring.”)
The article continues:
“But for the past five years, despite broad internal consensus and consistent pressure, the American Jewish establishment has been unable to persuade Israel’s government to create an equitable space for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall.”
Um. NO. Again. There ALREADY IS A PERFECTLY NICE EGALITARIAN PRAYER SECTION AT THE WESTERN WALL. The implementation of the resolution would not have changed that fact. The fact that the resolution has not been implemented will not prevent expansion and improvements to the egalitarian prayer section.
So how is the Israeli media portraying this contretemps? It’s the fault of the evil Haredim! Which it kinda is, except the “evil” is an unhelpful characterization. They’re lobbying for what is important to them. Isn’t that their right? They’re protecting their interests. I don’t blame them one bit for that.
There’s comic relief, at least, in the headline of this piece in the Jewish Press: “Kotel Stays Divided, If You Don’t Like It Make Aliyah and Change Government.”
There was nothing funny at all, on the other hand, about this video by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) which is essentially a hit piece on Netanyahu in which Netanyahu is accused of saying one thing in Hebrew and another thing in English. This is an incredible chutzpa because it’s a riff on what Israel has been saying about the PA all along: they say one thing in Arabic, and another thing in English, and whenever we say it, the left sticks its fingers in its ears. Like for instance when PA leaders say in Arabic: “Kill the Jews” and in English, “We just ADORE peace!”
The thing that’s getting lost in the sauce here: Netanyahu was hamstrung. The only way to keep his government together and maintain stability was to placate the demands of the Haredi parties not to implement the resolution. Bibi had no choice in the matter and anyway: There ALREADY IS AN OFFICIAL EGALITARIAN PRAYER SECTION AT THE WESTERN WALL which will continue to be improved and expanded.
No one has lost any rights here. That is the missing part of the stories I am reading. According to Zev Stub, of Janglo, who referenced Haaretz, around 100,000 Conservative and Reform worshipers pray at the egalitarian prayer space every year, or some 275 per day. Stub was there Monday morning and witnessed with his own eyes, three different groups of people celebrating happy occasions at Robinson’s Arch.
Yes. Freedom of religion is a thing in Israel. It’s real.
“Israel’s government on Sunday nixed an ambitious plan approved last year to allow mixed-gender religious services at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, angering many American Jews, who said they felt insulted and abandoned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.”
NO, NO, NO. This is a bald faced LIE. The plan isn’t to allow mixed-gender religious services at the Western Wall, because THERE ALREADY IS AN OFFICIAL EGALITARIAN PRAYER SECTION AT THE WESTERN WALL.
Also, the Western Wall is not Judaism’s holiest prayer site. That would be the TEMPLE MOUNT. Now you know that Eglash and Booth know this. They know it well. They are both based in Jerusalem for many years.
They get around the truth, Eglash and Booth, by calling the Wall the holiest “prayer site” because if Jews pray on the Temple Mount, their actual holiest site, they get ARRESTED and BANNED from the area for future visits. Unlike the Muslims, who are allowed to flock to the holiest site of the Jewish people, to pray in the mosque they built on the holiest site of the Jewish people on Ramadan, in the hundreds of thousands, as Elder has detailed HERE. Freedom of religion for thee and not for me! Unlike the mixed-gender prayer services at the Western Wall.
So American Jews feel insulted and abandoned by Bibi’s “ruling coalition?” It’s only because they haven’t a clue that he has no choice. That he is Israel’s stability and that he can’t have his government fall for some American whim which essentially has no impact on egalitarian prayer at the Wall since THERE ALREADY IS AN EGALITARIAN PRAYER SECTION AT THE WESTERN WALL.
Bibi is being criticized from within and from without over basically nothing at all. The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency said it would be “changing its entire agenda for the remaining two days of its meetings in Jerusalem, in order to address the ramifications of these decisions.” The same press release noted that, “The scheduled dinner with the participation of the Prime Minister has been canceled,”
Bad boy, Bibi. Bad. *slaps hand*
Natan Sharansky, who serves as Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, said, “I must express my deep disappointment at today’s decision by the Government of Israel to suspend the implementation of its own decision to establish a dignified space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.”
Reading that, any American Jew might be forgiven for thinking that there is currently no space provided for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. But Sharansky didn’t actually say that. He said, “a dignified space,” which means that the people doing the complaining want to be in charge of the space rather than continue to let the Western Wall Heritage Foundation manage things as they have since 1988, when the Israeli government tasked them with the duty of overseeing all things Wall.
In other words, these very American groups doing the complaining, want to wrest control from Israel over this Jewish holy site located in, um, ISRAEL.
I rest my case.
Nothing to see here. Run along.