On Monday this week, at their General Assembly in Los Angeles, the leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America passed a resolution attacking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government for reneging on a two-part agreement: allowing the non-Orthodox denominations their own major plot of real estate, in a well visible location, at the Western Wall; and recognizing the legitimacy of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel. The resolution threatened this fallout could cause an irreversible damage to relations between Israel and American Jewry, and challenged the Knesset to fight for the JFNA cause.
In the next battle between the Netanyahu government and JFNA, on Thursday this week some 150 Reform Jews, Israelis and visitors, conducted a mixed-sex special prayer and Torah-reading service at the same disputed Western Wall, and succeeded in creating the violent provocation they were seeking.
Reform clergy Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was accosted by security guards, according to a report in Ha’aretz. Reform clergy Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, was detained for questioning by police. Anat Hoffman, head of Women of the Wall, who usually starts trouble at the Kotel only on the first of the Jewish month and on some Jewish holidays, was also on hand, and was even approached by an “ultra-Orthodox man,” who tried to pull a Torah scroll from her hands.
In short, it was the finest hour of Jews of all stripes.
Ha’aretz provided a colorful play-by-play of the Battle of the Kotel of 27 Cheshvan 5758, which, incidentally, took place on Yom Kippur Katan, or Minor Day of Atonement, which takes place ahead of the new month. The observance consists of fasting and supplication, but not as rigorous as on the actual Yom Kippur. Some of the prayers are hauntingly beautiful, incidentally, it’s a recommended cleansing experience.
Back to the play-by-play, courtesy of Judy Moltz of Ha’aretz. The mixed-sex prayer service began properly enough at the “egalitarian plaza” at the southern end of the Wall, built during the previous coalition government by then Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi). But then the participants decided to add some action to their spiritual menu for the day, and carried their eight Torah scrolls (by men and women, naturally) to the main plaza before the Wall. “Security guards tried to stop them, and a scuffle broke out,” Moltz reported.
The guards are employed by the Orthodox group Western Wall Heritage Foundation, so everyone was on hand for the reenactment of our glorious civil war of 70 CE.
“Many of those holding Torah scrolls were hit and punched by the guards,” Kariv told Ha’aretz. “I saw Rabbi Rick Jacobs taking the brunt of the blows.”
A regular Mahatma Gandhi.
Next, according to Maltz, the Reform folks “broke through the guards and held a Torah reading service at the upper plaza that included women.” They closed with Hatikvah, which was controversial because sports events should start with the national anthem.
So it’s official, as long as Jewish American tourists who come to the Kotel every so often don’t get to pray in a mixed group while everybody else is forced to watch, there will be a painful rift between JFNA and Israel. Likewise should the Netanyahu government continue to insist on Jewish Halacha as the foundation for conversions, that, too, will be causing a rift.
We have no idea what the actual consequences of this fight may be. What can American Jewry inflict on the obstinate Netanyahu coalition? Are they going to limit their Aliyah numbers to a couple of hundreds a year, mostly Orthodox? They’re already doing that. Are they going to advocate for the firing of a pro-settlements US ambassador to Israel? Already doing it. Will they support BDS targeting Jews who live in Biblical Israel such as in the Old City of Jerusalem, eastern Jerusalem, Beit El, or the Gush Etzion area whose Jews were expelled by the Jordanian Legion in 1949? Check.
As always, there is one surefire way for US Jews to influence electoral reality in Israel – come on over and become active voters. Half a million of them making Aliyah could completely change the face of the Jewish State, so, please get a move on it, your new country needs you.
Otherwise, for people who become mortally hurt when this or that Orthodox politician tells them they’re not really Jewish, heaping on their heads advice as to how they should improve – US Jews are surprisingly unrestrained when it comes to meddling in the coalition politics of a foreign country. Netanyahu lied to you? Seriously? Twice? Go talk to the Jews of Judea and Samaria – he lies to them every Monday and Tuesday, and twice on Sundays.