NEW KOTEL PRAYER AREA WILL NOT REDUCE TENSIONS

Women of the Wall members pray at the Western Wall,

MIKE REPORT OPINION: Since 1988 egalitarian activists, led most prominently by The Women of the Wall, have demanded the right to engage in non-traditional prayer at the Kotel Hamaaravi.  The   group’s stated goal is to secure the rights of women to pray aloud, read from the Torah and wear religious garments such as kippa, talet and teffilin at the Western Wall.

According to The Forward “Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, was asked last year by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to formulate a plan to change prayer regulations at the Wall. The request came after rising calls among Conservative and Reform Jews to allow for non-Orthodox prayer in the plaza and several high-profile arrests of female activists at the Wall.”

On Tuesday of this past week Sharansky proposed a compromise plan “that would expand the current Western Wall Plaza, currently divided into men’s and women’s sections, to allow a space where men and women can pray together.”

“Sharansky presented the plan on Tuesday in New York to the rabbinical Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. Leaders of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jewry have expressed their willingness to go along with the proposal.”

Within 48 hours of Sharansky’s proposal, Anat Hoffman and her Women of the Wall were back at the Kotel  leading a Rosh Chodesh prayer service. Many donned talet and teffilin leading to conflict with other worshippers at the wall and inevitable police intervention.

After 28 years of protests and disruption at one of Judaism’s holiest sites Ms. Hoffman and her fellow activists were offered a historic compromise, a place along the Western Wall to pray as they see fit. Instead of welcoming what is clearly a victory for their cause, instead of embracing  the desire amongst all parties, including the Orthodox leadership to find a solution to this conflict between brothers (and sisters); the Women of the Wall chose for the umpteenth time to disrupt worship at one of Judaism’s holiest sites. But why engage in such racuous behavior the Thursday after Sharansky’s proposal to resolve the disagreement once and for all?

The truth is that egalitarian prayer is not the ultimate goal of Anat Hoffman or the Women of the Wall. In a recent interview Ms. Hoffman told the BBC “I think when you change the holiest site of the Jewish people you are actually asking why not about a variety of other life choices dictated to Israelis by the Orthodox monopoly.” Ms. Hoffman’s objective is not merely to pray as she sees fit but to fundamentally change the religious status quo* in Israel.

Thus it is not the tearing down of the status quo at the Kotel that  activists  like Ms. Hoffman ultimately wish to achieve , but rather full recognition by the state of Israel of the various and sundry  break away sects of Judaism.

Whatever the merits of establishing a non traditional prayer section along the Western Wall, it will not in any way reduce, and will most certainly increase tensions at the Kotel and elsewhere, as these media savvy activists push forward towards their goal.

*The “Status Quo” is used in Israel as a reference to David Ben Gurion’s decision to leave all matters religious in the hands of the Orthodox rabbinate.  A Secular Zionist leader and Israel’s first Prime Minister,  Ben Gurion saw the Conservative and Reform movements as products of the European diaspora and not reflective of his vision for a resurrected Jewish nation in their homeland. It was he who advocated that the religious definition of Judaism in Israel be defined as that practiced prior to the European Jewish “Haskala”, famously saying (perhaps aprocrophylly) that “the synagogue I don’t attend is Orthodox”.
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