Knesset OK of Pluralistic Prayer Ban Has Far Reaching Consequences

The Western Wall, with crowd in front and Jerusalem Skyline beyond.

The Western Wall

Imagine being invited to a party. Of course, you knew that you would be invited since you are related to the celebrants. In fact, you helped pay for the party. Even though you are an out of town guest, you have been in touch with the hometown family, following their lives, investing in their businesses, and supporting their decisions. Whether or not you agree with them, you have been there for them and with them – always with unwavering devotion. That is what you expect of yourself as a member of this large extended family.

After entering the dance hall, you approach a table with place-cards arranged alphabetically. It is strange that your place at a table is not listed. As the band plays, the celebrants dance the hora. You, however, are told to stand to the side. [Read more…]

An Alternative to the Alternative Kotel

— by Richard Lederman

If you haven’t heard by now, there’s a new plan for Jewish worship at the Western Wall — the Kotel — in old Jerusalem. Since Jewish access was restored to the Old City in June 1967 after 19 years of Jordanian control, Orthodox rabbinic authorities have held sole sway over the Kotel, enforcing their understanding of Halakha — Jewish law — pertaining to the forms of worship that could take place there. Most explicit is the strict separation of men and women and the prohibition against certain forms of worship in the women’s section. For instance, women may not wear traditional religious garb — Tallit and Tefillin — and may not read from a Torah scroll. For years, these restrictions have been challenged by The Women of the Wall who have bravely endured humiliation, threats, physical abuse and arrest as they overtly defy these restrictions in acts of civil disobedience.

In the meantime, a new section of the wall has gradually become a venue for egalitarian worship. Underneath a feature of the wall known as Robinson’s Arch, located south of the main plaza, men and women worship and lead the services as equals. In recent months, Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky has concluded a nearly three-year negotiated compromise with the rabbinic authorities and the government affording official status to this section of the Kotel. The execution of this compromise is in the offing, whereby the area in front Robinson’s Arch will be transformed into a plaza not unlike the original plaza created in 1967, with equal 24/7 access for all worshipers. In other words, now you will have two mostly equal choices when you visit the Kotel: the original plaza and this new egalitarian section.

Naturally, as with all compromises, no one is particularly happy, and the announcement of the new arrangement has been met with a slew of articles and opinion pieces in the Jewish press. Even some of the supporters of egalitarian prayer at the Kotel feel let down. Writing in The Forward, Gabriela Geselowitz, a young “Birthrighter,” bemoans the fact that she still can’t wear her Tallit and Tefillin at the part of the Kotel that is from “the postcards, the documentaries, the images of Jewish Jerusalem that the world knows.” To Geselowitz, Robinson’s Arch is not the “real” Kotel, the “authentic” Kotel. “I can’t help thinking,” she concludes, “that we’ve agreed to the idea that being shunted out of the way, to something ‘technically’ part of a holy experience, is enough. It’s not.” [Read more…]

Women of the Wall Call Jewish Women to #LightOneCandle

kotel menorah

The Western Wall’s men’s section during Hanukkah.

Women of the Wall will gather today for a women’s candle lighting at the Western Wall protesting against the exclusion of women at the Wall, and calls Jewish women around the world to share online photos of themselves lighting a candle for the cause:

Each year on Chanukah, a large, majestic Chanukah menorah is erected in the men’s section of the Western Wall. Each night, a candle lighting ceremony is held and different Israeli politicians and religious leaders – all men, are honored and women are left to stand on plastic chairs barely able see the festivities and the candles.

The organization has asked Jewish women to take a picture of themselves lighting a candle, and share it on Facebook or Twitter with the tag #LightOneCandle. The organization’s website lets visitors send an email form to the Wall’s administrator, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who denied Women of the Wall’s request that this year’s Hanukkah, a large menorah be placed in the women’s section as well as in the men’s section.

Canadian PM Harper Banned From Visiting Dome of the Rock


Harper praying near the Western Wall.

The visit of the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, to the Dome of the Rock, was called off after Harper was told that his Jewish guards would not be allowed to enter the area.

Yesterday, Harper visited the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, and stopped to place a note in the wall as he took a moment of silent introspection.

B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO, Frank Dimant, said that his organization has “raised this issue with Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom.”

Equal access must be given to Jewish worshipers wishing to ascend the Temple Mount. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the religious discrimination going on at the hands of the Islamic Waqf responsible for administering the site.

Harper’s visit to Yad Vashem after the jump.
Harper also made a solemn visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, where he paid respects to the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War.

Dimant, who is the son of survivors from Auschwitz and Dachau, said that visiting the museum “undoubtedly reinforced Mr. Harper’s pride and understanding, not only about what Israel has achieved in the shadow of the horrors of the Holocaust, but how the Canadian government made terrible mistakes in the 1930s.”

Sharansky Presents Western Wall Plan to Knesset Committee

— by Joshua Berkman

While Israelis were preparing for Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), marking the unification of the city and renewed Jewish access to the Western Wall, Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky met last Tuesday with the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, where he presented an outline of his plan to create a section for egalitarian prayer in the southern part of the Kotel (Western Wall).

More after the jump.
Mr. Sharansky addressed the committee:

Every Jew in the world has a unique relationship with the Kotel. There is no other place in the world that fulfills such a role in the life, history, and identity of any nation. It is naturally in our interest for every Jew to express his or her own connection as he or she sees fit. Ultimately, the solution will not come through court rulings or legislation, but rather through a broad agreement between all segments of the Jewish people.

Sharansky then laid out the details for an egalitarian prayer area that would be equal in size to the current prayer area, open around the clock, and accessible via a single, shared entrance, along with the current men’s and women’s sections. “Every Jew will enter the Kotel area through a single entryway and will then decide whether to pray in a traditional Orthodox manner or in a non-Orthodox manner,” he said. Sharansky also noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted the plan in principle.

I had a very impressive meeting with Reform and Conservative leaders, with representatives of the Orthodox Union, of Agudath Israel, of Chabad, of Modern Orthodox organizations, in which all said they would be willing to accept this solution.

With regards to implementation of the plan, Sharansky noted that certain archaeological elements would have to be resolved, but suggested that construction could begin within one month, an initial stage could be completed within 10 months, and the entire plan could be actualized within two years. The government has insisted on covering all costs, he said.

Members of Knesset from across the political spectrum hailed Sharansky’s plan, promising support for its implementation. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who serves as Rabbi of the Western Wall and of the Holy Sites of Israel, acknowledged that he has some reservations about the plan, but said that the fact that no one is entirely satisfied by it could be an indication that it is the correct solution. Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Andrew Sacks of the Conservative Movement, and Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall all expressed support for Mr. Sharansky’s efforts.

Committee Chairwoman MK Dr. Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) summarized the discussion by reminding those in attendance that “we must never forget the Kotel’s place in the heart of the Jewish people,” and by telling Mr. Sharansky that “we are here for you and will extend any and all assistance in bringing your plan to fruition.”

“I share both the hopes and the concerns expressed today,” Sharansky concluded.

If we wish to reach a significant compromise, we will have to take unconventional steps. We must listen to one another and treat one another with respect, otherwise none of this will be possible.

Ameinu Welcomes Decision to Allow Women to Pray at Western Wall

— by Haim Simon

Ameinu, the leading progressive Zionist membership organization in North America, welcomes the decision rendered by the Jerusalem District Court ruling that there is no basis for the detention of women for praying at the Western Wall.

Members of Women of the Wall — an organization devoted to achieving the right for women to pray, wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah at the Western Wall — have previously been arrested for trying to exercise this religious right.

“This ruling is an extremely positive step towards greater religious pluralism and inclusiveness in Israel,” said Ameinu President Kenneth Bob.

More after the jump.

The ultra-Orthodox monopoly over the Kotel must end. However, it is part of a larger problem of Orthodox control over many aspects of Israeli life. That must end as well and all streams of Judaism must be recognized as equally legitimate.

The legal ruling today follows the announcement by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky of plans to create a space for egalitarian prayer at the Wall. This plan was approved by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We are heartened by these recent events and look forward to praying at the Kotel with our friends and colleagues from Women of the Wall. Mazal Tov to them and to the State of Israel,” Bob concluded.

“Liberating” the Western Wall – Again

(Jewschool) This morning in Jerusalem, the Women of the Wall brought heavy Israeli symbolism along with 150 participants to their monthly peaceful protest — three of the IDF veterans who captured the wall in the 1967 war. All went uninterrupted for the first time in 22 months until they departed through security, where nine women were separated and detained. Those included Anat Hoffman, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of comedian Sarah Silverman) and her daughter Hallel, and eight-month pregnant rabbinical student Lior Nevo.

More after the jump.
Quoted in the Jerusalem Post, Ilon Bar-Tov, a paratrooper who fought in the Old City battles,

“It’s unacceptable that the police are stopping women from wearing tallitot, it’s like Iran. I can’t believe they are stopping people from praying one way or another.”

Although the term “liberating” the Western Wall is hard to borrow, the symbolism is obviously aimed at Israeli mainstream ears. The iconic faces of these paratroopers grace every postcard stand and Jerusalem Day poster since the event itself. Their names are nearly household. Petitions submitted to the Supreme Court are challenging the all-haredi representation on the board of the plaza’s governing body, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. All denominations and the secular public should be able to participate in the decisions affecting the plaza, they argue.

And it’s working to force the Israeli government to pay attention. In late December, Prime Minister Netanyahu for the first time acknowledged the unsustainable status quo at the plaza. The American Reform and Conservative movements, along other diaspora women’s groups, have stood solidly behind Women of the Wall. The most previous arrests of Anat Hoffman pushed even the Jewish Agency board to demand a change. The Prime Minister asked Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky to “look into the matter” and report back after the elections. Hearing that, ultra-orthodox extremist groups deplored the presence of “Zionist occupation” and “whores” at the Wall.