Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall in the 1870s.

I am always for compromise when it is Halachicly feasible. That’s why I have some issues with organizations like Am Echad which opposes any compromise on an egalitarian space at the Kotel. A space like that does not violate Halacha.

Until 1967 when Jewish control over the Kotel was restored prayer at the Kotel was not gender separated. One can easily find archival footage of men and women praying there in the same space. The only time there is a requirement for a separation between men and women is when there is Kedushas Beis HaKnesses – the sanctity of the shul. Separation of the sexes is required only when a minimum of ten men want to pray in an actual Shul.


But ever since 1967, the Kotel Plaza has taken on the form of a Shul. Many Minyanim take place there daily with permanent Aronei Kodesh, Sifrei Torah, Bimahs,  and a permanent Mechtiza

That is not the case with the area designated for egalitarian use. Back in 2016, a compromise was initially agreed upon by Charedi leaders whereby another section of the Kotel not currently being used for prayer (Robinson’s Arch) was to be made available and expanded for mixed-gender prayer. I applauded that compromise since it was solidly based in Halacha and because it avoided further conflict.

But the Charedi leadership backed out. They said they could not support that compromise since it contained unacceptable provisions they were not informed of at the time of the agreement. Their initial agreement changed to strident opposition. As though compromise never even existed. That is where things stand now.

As I have said in the past, if compromise was reached once – it can be reached again. People of goodwill on both sides ought to be able to sit down and work something out that would be acceptable to everyone. Unfortunately, that ain’t gonna happen.

The question is, what is it that is really at stake here? This is where I put on my Orthodox hat and explain what this is really about. It is about letting them get their foot in the door of legitimization. But these movements can in no way be considered authentic despite their insistence that they are. Here’s my thinking.

I could never understand the basis for movements that left millennia of traditional Judaism and replaced it with radical interpretations of the will of God. That is the crux of the differences between Orthodoxy and other denominations.

Reform Judaism is the most obvious departure from that. If one believes that God’s will for the Jewish people is expressed in the Torah, then by default what the Torah explicitly tells us to do, we must do. The idea for example of keeping Kosher is detailed in the Torah. Abandoning those laws is abandoning the will of God. The idea that it is the will of God to abandon something He explicitly tells us to do never made sense to me.

But this is essentially the underlying principle of the Reform Movement. They say that the Torah’s directives were about how to live ethical lives. Modern man no longer needs rituals to do that. With that philosophy Reform Jewry was able to fully assimilate into the general culture without a hint of anything tangibly Jewish about them.

Reform Judaism actually frowned on any Mitzvah observance that departed from cultural norms. Just to cite one example, back in the 1950s, the Reform Rabbi of a Temple in my hometown of Toledo required the removal of any head covering when you entered their ‘sanctuary’.

The idea of rejecting religious observances that contradict social norms does not make any sense. All that accomplishes is removing any vestiges of recognizable Judaism from one’s midst.  I don’t see how that can be called Judaism in any real sense of the word.

What makes them Jewish if they discard millennia of Jewish tradition? Eating a bagel? Sermons about social justice? And this doesn’t even address the fact that they deny the Divine authorship of the Torah. Without God, what kind of religion is it? That is not Judaism. It is Humanism.

In the not too distant past many Reform leaders finally recognized how bankrupt their version of Judaism was. So they did a 180. They now encourage Mitzvah observance as much as possible. One now sees many of their rabbis wearing Kipot. Their prayer books have restored some Hebrew prayers. One can even find Sukkahs on their Temple grounds in the fall. They realize that one cannot be Jewish without some recognizable Jewish aspects to their lives.

I am happy to see their epiphany. But they have gone so far off the reservation that this is way too little and way too late. For one thing, they recognize patrilineal descent (Someone born of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother) as fully Jewish. They also include living as a Jew (whatever that means to Reform Judaism) makes someone Jewish regardless of any conversion process. Intermarried couples are considered fully Jewish too if they ‘live like Jews’.

How can any serious Jew consider that a legitimate form of Judaism?

Conservative Judaism is a bit more complex. They claim to be Halachic. They even have a committee that decides what is and isn’t Halacha. But if one examines how far they have departed from traditional Halachic observance one would be hard-pressed to recognize it in some cases. The liberal policies, with respect to their pulpit rabbis, allow some of their Shuls to not be all that different from Reform Temples. The fact that the vast majority of Conservative Jews do not observe even the Conservative version of Halacha makes a mockery of the word. How is recognizing a movement with results like that in any way Jewish? Judaism surely cannot be perpetuated in this way.

The point here is that both of these 2 major Jewish denominations do not resemble anything close to how our forefathers lived even as recently as a couple of hundred years ago. Whereas Orthodoxy has been far more of a continuum.

This is why Orthodoxy is opposed to recognizing these movements in Israel. Even though I disagree with the rejection of finding compromise at the Kotel, I get why they do not want these movements to gain any traction.  Israel at the core sees Orthodoxy as the more authentic version of Judaism. Even by those that are not observant. I obviously agree with that. Apparently so too does the current Israeli government. From I24 News:

Israeli parliamentary member Idit Silman said Saturday that implementing the “Kotel Compromise” of the Western Wall will not happen during the current government’s coalition because “much of it is one big demagoguery.”

…The goal of the current government is to preserve the Orthodox character of the Western Wall, the coalition chairwoman and member of the right-wing Yamina party Silman told Kan public broadcaster.

“If we look at the people of Israel in general, most of them aren’t in this state of mind [to implement the compromise],” she said.

“There is a minority [of support] and it is our role to make sure that its voice isn’t strong and significant and that it does not prevail.”

Glad to hear it.

{Reposted from the author’s blog}


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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at [email protected].