Ari Kalman, a Haredi reporter writing for Hadrei Haredim, on Tuesday wrote a thorough analysis of the proposed implementation by the Lapid-Bennett government of the Netanyahu government’s 2016 Kotel compromise (כך ייושם ‘מתווה הכותל’: המספרים, המשמעויות והתקציבים). This would be a good time to revisit the issue which has engaged both American and Israeli Jews in a vanity fair for five years now.
The Netanyahu government approved for the first time on January 31, 2016, the implementation of the new Kotel outline, including the arrangement of the different denominations’ prayers at the Kotel. The compromise called for extending the Kotel plaza to create a congregational area where things would be run according to the will and worldview of the Reform and Conservative movements.
The outline was frozen in 2017 at the insistence of the Haredi factions, and now the new government, which includes a Labor minister who used to head the Israeli Reform movement, to re-approve the compromise, thus officially recognizing for the first time the non-Orthodox movements and granting them official status in the second holiest place in Judaism (20 feet below the truly holy place).
Incidentally, the compromise has nothing to do with the egalitarian prayer platform that was established by then-Religious Serviced Minister Naflati Bennett in 2013, off to the left of the plaza.
The Reform, Conservative, and certainly the Women of the Wall have not been using it. Their eyes are clearly on real estate, and the rule in religious real estate happens to be, you guessed it, location, location, location.
With that in mind – the area of the Bennett platform is 4,844 sq.ft., compared to the proposed 9,687 sq. ft. for the real thing, which will equal 70% of the current Orthodox men’s section and 130% of the women’s. The new egalitarian section will spread along 75 ft. of raw Kotel stones. Enough for sticking in a myriad tzetalach.
What about the finances, you ask? Beyond the budget for construction, to the tune of NIS 35 million ($11.5 million), the new government has pledged an annual maintenance budget, reportedly NIS 5 million ($1.6 million), compared to only NIS 3 million for both the men’s and women’s Orthodox sections.
Torah scrolls, siddurim, and bimahs for reading the Torah will be placed in the new section, just like the Orthodox part, and under the new regulations, the extension will be considered a holy place. There’s no doubt that their new, equal status at the Kotel would be a big boost to the non-Orthodox movements, particularly in Israel, where they would translate their improved status to better access to budgets.
Man, I know at least one great 20th century north American Moreh d’Asra who’s rotating in his grave right about now.
Here’s something interesting: according to the proposed rules, a mechitzah-divider may not be installed in the new section, with the exception of the Women of the Wall’s monthly prayer.
Speaking of which – the clashes between the Orthodox men and women at the Kotel and the WOW will continue in all likelihood.
Unlike American Jews who want their own share in the Kotel when they come to visit, the WOW are not interested in compromises. To them, the only legitimacy is doing what they do in the traditional women’s section.
They won’t settle for alternatives – for two reasons:
- Their strategy is founded on challenging the Orthodox status quo in Israel, not compromising; and
- Their entire livelihood is founded on those clashes with the Orthodox and occasionally with the police. They document those clashes and email cries for help to everyone around the globe and her aunt.
That’s why I’ve supported just letting the WOW be.
Once a month, let them shlep in a Sefer Torah, let them put on tallis and tefillin unmolested, and see how inside six months they’d be finished. It’s the angry Haredim who give them life. If the Haredim and the seminar girls for six months davened Rosh Chodesh in the yeshivas – the WOW, who already number only a couple dozen most months, would dwindle to gurnisht.
Except that the Haredim also get their livelihood from doing battle against the enemies of the Jewish people, etc. It’s a problem.