Photo Credit: Uri Lenz/ FLASH90
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (C) at a synagogue in Bat Yam, December 14, 2009.

One of the most prominent national-religious rabbis, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Bracha near Shechem, last Tuesday met secretly and for the first time with Jacob Blumenthal, the CEO of USCJ and the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), in Melamed’s home in Har Bracha, to discuss the coming fast of Tisha B’Av and ways to prevent a repeat of last year’s violence at the Kotel on the somber day, Israel Hayom reported today (הפגישה הסודית של הרב הבכיר בציונות הדתית עם ראש התנועה הקונסרבטיבית).

Clashes broke out on Tisha B’Av night, July 17, 2021, in the Ezrat Israel section––where men and women pray together without a partition––between members of the liberal Jewish movements, to whose egalitarian prayer service the section had been dedicated, and a large group of men and women identified Hardalim—Religious Zionist Jews who are inclined toward Haredi ideology—who overwhelmed the Reform and Conservative congregants and forcefully set up a partition between the men and women, in clear violation of the rules.

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Rabbi Melamed later wrote that Conservative and Reform Jews must be allowed to pray at the Ezrat Israel section of the Kotel, and the Rabbi of the Kotel must take care of all their needs, including providing them with a Torah scroll.

“Since there are many Jews who identify with the Conservative and Reform movement, and according to their guiding values they have arranged for themselves common prayers for men and women in a style and with rules that are not according to the halacha and the customs of Israel, and they wish to pray at the Kotel as they wish, it would be right to state that in the Ezrat Israel section they should be able to hold their prayers with due respect,” Rabbi Melamed wrote.

Rabbi Melamed has been attacked for his position by the people he criticized, fellow travelers in the national-religious sector. Other groups, mostly on the liberal end, condemned the clashes.

A meeting was held earlier this week in the office of Government Secretary Shalom Shlomo with representatives of the police, the Women of the Wall, and representatives of the Masorti (Conservative) and Reform movements, following which the liberal groups expressed deep disappointment with the attitude of the police regarding preparations for Rosh Chodesh Av and Tisha B’Av, Israel Hayom reported.

“We were shocked to hear that the Israel Police is abdicating its authority to protect the peace of those praying in the women’s section and the Ezrat Israel section,” they said in a joint statement, warning that “tolerating a riot by Haredi elements at the Kotel will send a message that there is no law and no justice, and lead to bloodshed.”

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office ordered the CEO of the Society for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, Herzl Ben Ari, that “partitions must be prevented from being placed in the mixed prayer area. The ushers must not use force to prevent the insertion of partitions, and whenever the use of force is required, the Israel Police should be involved in dealing with the issue, subject to its powers.”

In his essay a year ago, Rabbi Melamed said that if the number of people wishing to pray in a mixed group would increase, “the authorities will increase and expand the Ezrat Israel section for them as needed. And the members of the religious and Haredi communities who observe the laws and the customs should not be sad that members of these movements come to the Kotel, but rejoice that more Jewish brethren are connected with the area of the Temple and more brethren want to pray to our Father in heaven, and they should look favorably on the fact that even though we disagree with their changes in the halakha we know how to respect and appreciate all the good things in them. The sanctification of the Name is bigger than the desecration of the Name.”

Rakefet Ginsberg, CEO of the Masorti movement in Israel, who was part of the meeting between Rabbi Melamed and Blumenthal, “Leadership skills and responsibility for destiny in the nation of Israel should bring every public leader, from any community to the conclusion that the time has come to lower the flames immediately.”

Otzma Yehudit Chairman MK Itamar Ben Gvir was upset with the Prime Minister’s instructions regarding the partitions: “The Jewish Wall does not belong to the Reform, but to all the people of Israel, women, men, religious and secular who all respect the Wall unlike the Reform,” he said in a statement.

Ben Gvir added: “These coming elections are between those who want a Jewish identity, and those who want a state for all its citizens and the elimination of Jewish tradition. Lapid’s scandalous decision is an example of what might happen to us if, God forbid, he is elected prime minister.”

Men and women pray together at the Kotel without a partition, circa 1920. / Courtesy of the National Library of Israel

Does praying in a mixed group constitute disrespect to the Kotel? I’m not so sure. Pictures from before the 1948 War of Independence show men and women praying at the Kotel without partitions, of course, the British also didn’t let the Jews bring in a shofar either, so nothing can be deduced from that picture. I suspect that Ben Gvir’s motives are very similar to those of the Reform who visit Israel every few years and want their cut: it’s all about turf.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.