For the first time in more than 25 years, three Israeli National-Religious Orthodox Rabbis: Shlomo Riskin, Benny Lau and Ronen Lubitsch, have called on the Netanyahu government to implement its decision to establish a special section of the Western Wall where Reform and Conservative Jews would be allowed to practice “mixed prayer” of men and women together, Israeli media reported Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, a large group of non-Orthodox Jews marched carrying Torah scrolls to protest restrictions on non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall. Members of the Israeli Reform Movement, Progressive Judaism and the Women of the Wall, they held prayers marking the start of the month of Cheshvan. They also protested the Netanyahu government’s delay in implementing its decision to create an egalitarian prayer section at the Wall.
The Liba organization, which is dedicated to fighting intermarriage in Israel, pointed out that many of the leaders of the Reform struggle to gain access to the Kotel as a movement are also extreme left-wing activists, such as Reform Rabbi Idit Lev, who led the “egalitarian prayer” at the Kotel on Wednesday, and is a senior official of Rabbis for Human Rights, which provided testimonies for the Goldstone report.
Against this very busy background, Rabbi Riskin has stated that Judaism as a whole and the Western Wall in particular are too important and precious to be left in the sole possession of Orthodox Jews. A video of his and his two colleagues’ statements was produced by Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a religious Zionist movement whose stated mission is “to forge a more open and tolerant discourse in Religious Zionism, one that integrates a halakhic lifestyle with active engagement in Israeli society, in order to strengthen tolerance, equality, and social responsibility on the national level.”
Rabbi Lau added, on the same video, that “we must give everyone a feeling of being at home [at the Kotel].” The Kotel is not sectarian, it is the heart of the Jewish people, he argued, and so every single individual from the Jewish diaspora must find a home there.
Rabbi Lubitsch, leader of Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, also supports a solution to the needs of non-Orthodox Jews at the Kotel, even though, as he puts it, “It would have been better had they recognized everybody from the start.”
The movement’s campaign will be launched next week, on the 7th of the month of Cheshvan, which marks a unique point of cooperation between the Jews of Israel and diaspora. Even though the Jewish rainy season began on the holiday of Shmini Atzeret, at the end of Sukkot, the rabbis ruled that prayers for rain be suspended for two weeks, to allow the pilgrims who celebrated the holidays in Jerusalem time to return to their homes in Babylon.
Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of the Israeli Reform Movement congratulated the rabbis on their courage and sense of responsibility, and told Ynet that he has no doubt that “a large religious Zionist majority supports their approach, rather than the severe and separatist approach of the Haredi establishment.”