Mandelblit Endorses Reform Right to Separate Administrator at Kosel

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit issued a legal opinion on Monday that could reignite controversy over the claims of the Reform and Conservative movements to the Kosel.

In a submission to the High Court, Mandelblit said that the heterodox groups not only have a right to the prayer area designated for them at the southern end of the Kosel, but are also entitled to an administrator for it who is not subordinate to the chief rabbinate, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The Torah community has fought tenaciously against any official recognition of the non-Orthodox groups, and are expected to oppose the attorney general’s recommendation as well.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, chairman of the Coalition of Jewish Values, told Hamodia on Monday night that he was opposed to the opinion for two reasons:

“I find at least two serious irregularities in this decision. First, it was Avichai Mandelblit, who as Cabinet Secretary instituted the plan to have this pluralistic section at the Western Wall. For him to now decide on its fate, as Israel Attorney General, is a serious conflict of interest.

“Second, the tradition and custom of the entire Western Wall is Orthodox and under the auspices of the Chief Rabbis. For him to create new traditions at the site is not the authority of the government.

“I pray that this decision will be challenged by all that hold Jewish tradition important,” Rabbi Lerner concluded.

Spokeswoman for the Orthodox group Women for the Wall, Leah Aharoni, told Hamodia on Monday night that “Appointing a government official in charge of protecting non-halachic prayer rights at the Kotel gives the heterodox movements just the kind of recognition they are trying to establish for themselves in Israel. It would set precedent for establishing the Reform as a ‘parallel track’ to traditional Judaism, a travesty we must prevent at all cost.”

As for the part of Mandelblit’s statement which referred to the status of the southern part of the Kosel in question, she said:

“Ever since 1967 rabbinic consensus has been that Robinson’s Arch is an integral part of the Kotel and that the kedusha of the Kotel extends to this part of the wall as well.”

Regarding administration of the non-Orthodox site, Mandelblit said that the regulations of the Law for Protecting the Holy Sites could not be implemented at Robinson’s Arch by someone opposed to non-Orthodox prayer since the “customs of the site” are for egalitarian prayer and prayer services of Women of the Wall.

“Therefore… a government agent who does not represent the chief rabbinate should be appointed as an ‘administrator’ of the southern prayer plaza,” he wrote, adding that it should be an “appropriate” government official.

Leaders of the Reform and Conservative groups in Israel welcomed the attorney general’s opinion.