Photo Credit:
Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar at the "Reform" section of the Kotel / Screenshot

On Tuesday morning, Jerusalem Chief Rabbi, the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar conducted a heartfelt prayer with a few dozen supporters in the remote area of the Western Wall known as the “Israelite Section,” which had been designated by the Israeli government for the mixed prayer services of Reform and Conservative visitors.

The chief rabbi’s followers erected an improvised mehitza-divider to separate men and women, in defiance of the government program. After the morning service, Rabbi Amar spoke tearfully, saying “there’s no such thing as the Reform Kotel, there’s only the Holy Kotel.”

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“No one can revoke this holiness,” Rabbi Amar continued, “not the government, not the court, you can’t, it’s a hekdesh-sanctuary, it’s the Temple Mount. Not the goyim, not the UN, no power can revoke it. We stand guard and declare that our entire purpose is for the sake of God’s honor, only God’s honor, and the Shechina-emanation of God, and the people of Israel and the Land of Israel.”

Rabbi Amar’s prayer service reflected a perception on the part of many Haredi leaders that the Reform and Conservative movements are making inroads in Israel through the Supreme Court and certain government officials, and are threatening the classic status quo, whereby secular Israelis did not go to shul, but the shul they didn’t go to was Orthodox. Most Israelis are not interested in these American imports, but the fact that the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem went out of his way to condemn Reform access to the Kotel probably gave those two-minute movements a new lease on life.

For the record, the idea for the mixed prayer area by the Kotel came from an Orthodox Jewish politician, then Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), who in 2013 announced the creation of a new prayer area, south of the Mugrabim Gate and north of Robinson’s Arch, an area of 4,844 sq. ft., which is a non-contiguous extension of the Kotel Plaza. It was Bennett’s attempt at solving a 28-year long dispute between the Women of the Wall, a group of largely non-Orthodox Jewish women who have been praying in the Kotel’s women’s section on the first of each Jewish month as well as on select holidays, singing and donning talit and tefillin—all acts which have been provoking ultra-Orthodox Jews since the early 1990s.

While a broad section of ultra-Orthodox public figures attacked the Bennett solution, going as far as to dub it “tzelem ba’heikhal” or a statue in God’s temple, the Women of the Wall group also rejected the minister’s peaceful solution, accusing Bennett of aligning himself with the “extremist” views of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the government-appointed Kotel Rabbi, and of Israel’s chief rabbis (of course, when one accuses the mainstream religious and political leadership of extremism, it would be difficult for her to claim the center).

The WOW also called the special fenced wooden platform Bennett provided for mixed prayers a “sundeck overlooking the Western Wall,” which, come to think of it, could be the name for a bangup real estate bonanza. And the Reform movement over in the US, where they dominate Jewish life, at least on paper, with some two million members (in largely Orthodox Israel they may be noisy but their numbers are puny), announced that the Kotel must be open and accessible to all the Jews and men and women must be treated equally there. In other words, why can’t you all be more Reform, like the rest of us.

The fact is that the Bennett solution, while acquiescing that Israelis who are Reform and Conservative have the right to use a state-owned and funded religious facility, resolves the conflict in a peaceful way, which is not something the Reform and Conservative movements want. Since the platform has been erected, it has been standing empty, first because very few Reform and Conservative Israelis have the time or inclination to regularly fight Jerusalem traffic to go pray at the Kotel when most of them hardly ever pray in their own synagogues during the week; and second because without the opportunity to provoke the Orthodox, what’s the point of schlepping all the way to Jerusalem?

Now, the pushback from the Jerusalem Chief Rabbi has revived the non-Orthodox, whose fundraising and membership largely depends on being the victims of Orthodox “repression.” And so, once again, spokespersons for both movements have condemned the aging rabbi, whose salary is provided by the taxpayers, and who attacks the principles of equality, freedom and the American way.

Perhaps the good chief rabbi of Jerusalem should have taken a hint from the fact that he and his followers were the only ones praying on the Reform “sundeck,” because no one else ever prays there on any given day, and even the Baha’i movement in Israel represents a bigger threat to Orthodox Judaism at the Kotel than do the Reform and Conservative.

The best cure for the WOW phenomenon is probably to let them have their way until they get bored with it. The most recent new month celebration of the WOW, a week ago, attracted fewer than 90 women, and the only coverage it received was a provocation by its CEO, who showed local cops at the end of the service that she had “smuggled” a Torah scroll into the women’s section. Otherwise even she couldn’t get arrested by a largely disinterested police, and couldn’t get covered by the media which is inundated with much bigger stories.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Israel is supposed to be the only democratic and free country in the Middle East. That is the main reason why millions of North American tax payer dollars are spent every year on the Jewish state. How can someone justify an Israel that discriminates against reform jews. It is like an African jew and a party formed to fight discrimination saying reform and conservative jews should be banned from using State funded tax payer mitvahs. it just does not look good.

  2. Clearly written by someone with a far right wing agenda who thinks people not like him must have nasty intentions. Why can't we all respect each other? By the by, the 'sundeck' is very difficult to access and the Bennett plan would have had construction to make the Robinson area more easily accessible.

  3. To The Editor:

    The good and venerable Harav Amar acted with courage and within his responsibility as Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.

    The writer of the article thinks that his ridicule of the liberal wings of Judaism is licence to criticize Harav Amar.

    Harav Amar knows full well and much better than the writer of the article when to act and to speak and when to remain silent.

    Perception by the community is very much a matter for Rabbis to act upon.

    If you do not protest this desecration of the Makom HaMikdosh with the prayer deck area for mixed gender and non-halachic prayer – then it is a Chillul Hashem.

    The Halacha forbids it and common sense dictates that we do not need a new Hellenist garrison to be set up by the government of Israel at the foot of the KOTEL.

    No do we want a TZELEM B"HEICHAL HASHEM as the writer with his lack of information seems to promote – allbeit unwillingly.

    Enough said!

    No desecration of the KOTEL area should be allowed by these charlatan groups seeking legitimazation in the eyes of their movements.

    –Yehoshua

  4. The women experienced the same holocaust as the men, they experience the same death camps and mobile killing units in world war two as the men, they fought in Israel's armies and sacrifice their lives for the state of Israel in its intelligence services. They should be equal in all aspects in the Jewish state. That is my humble opinion.

  5. Rawle Ashford The majority of the women who support Women at the Wall appear to be motivated by ego, while the majority of men are motivated by spirituality or a sense of community responsibility. If you want your prayer led by egotists, that's your prerogative. My experience taught me that ego, not spirituality, is behind their movement, and I believe that this is inappropriate at the holiest site of the Jewish world, where others go for spiritual reasons.

  6. Hanna Geshelin Since you do not personally know these women, you have no right to malign them. Lashon HaRah! By the by, my reason for being a Rabbi is in response to the huge need to reach out to disenfranchised Jews and provide a community for them to call home and turn to in time of need. Bigotry is an equal opportunity vice, even among Jews. Need to get back to arranging a funeral…

  7. All these fools are doing is chasing people away from Judaism and support for Israel. Let them keep it up and they will find out that they are in a must smaller religion. Which is very small compare to the major religions of the world.

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