The controversy surrounding the “Women of the Wall” is being cast in the world media as a human rights issue: A group of Jewish women that wants nothing more than to pray at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, is being prevented from doing so by the big, bad Israeli government, egged on by the chareidim (of “separate buses” notoriety).
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, if anyone’s rights are being trampled, it is those of the regulars at the Kosel, the women who come — every day, not just Rosh Chodesh — to daven, not to create a provocation. These women are denied a place of quiet, holiness and dignity, where they have been coming for decades to pour out their hearts, by a group of lawbreakers that seek to advance a political agenda.
According to the mission statement of Women of the Wall, established late in 1988, the group wants to “wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.” Sources very close to the issue told Hamodia that the group won’t rest until it has torn down the mechitzah and enabled the holding of mixed minyanim where bat mitzvah girls can be called to the Torah.
In other words, it wants to turn the Kosel into a Reform temple. Not surprising, considering that its leader is Anat Hoffman, director of the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement in Yerushalayim.
But it goes deeper than that. The Reform movement has failed to make serious inroads in Israel, despite an investment of many millions of dollars. When so-called secular Jews in Israel want to go to shul on Shabbos or Yom Tov, they overwhelmingly choose an Orthodox shul, not a Reform temple. When they want a bar mitzvah, wedding or a funeral, they turn to an Orthodox rabbi.
But instead of the Reform movement admitting that its message of pluralism is irrelevant in Israel, it continues to either create or fan controversies that give it the chance to claim to be a champion of human rights, a genuine representative of secular Israelis.
Hoffman herself admits that the Women of the Wall didn’t arise as a response to the need of Israeli women to daven at the Kosel with talleisim. “This did not evolve here in Israel,” she told The New York Times. “This is an import from abroad.”
Shari Eshet, the Israeli representative of the New York-based National Council of Jewish Women, is even more blunt: “Secular Israelis do not see this as their problem; to them it’s a bunch of crazy American ladies.”
And these “crazy American ladies” will go to any lengths to score a victory for the Reform movement, even it means profaning the Kosel, breaking the law, and tarnishing Israel’s image as a law-abiding country that honors the rights of all groups to practice their religion freely. It knows that pictures of women being hauled off by Israeli police for praying at the Kosel will play well at Reform rallies across America, and that’s all that matters, in their minds.
How ironic that the same Reform movement that hails Israel’s Supreme Court when it rules that the Tal Law on drafting yeshivah students is unconstitutional or that chareidi schools must teach the core curriculum, has no trouble ignoring it when it bars the Women of the Wall from holding services at the Kosel.
On April 6, 2003, the court ruled that the group could not read the Torah or wear tallis or tefillin at the main public area at the Kosel. Instead, it ordered the government to set up an alternative site, Robinson’s Arch, which was inaugurated in 2004.
But this hasn’t stopped one of the leading clergymen who have been championing the rights of the Women of the Wall from calling “upon Israeli Police to protect Women of the Wall and every woman who joins with them in peaceful prayer.” In most democratic countries, people who break the law are arrested.
The Reform movement in the United States is using the Women of the Wall to bully the government into giving it the recognition that the people have withheld. Israel’s ambassador to Israel, Dr. Michael Oren, has come under pressure on the issue, as has the Jewish Agency which voted on a resolution calling for a “satisfactory approach to the issue of prayer at the Western Wall.”
The new head of the Reform movement openly threatens to withhold support for federations and Israel. “There’s got to be a sense that the State of Israel gives non-Orthodox Jews the same kind of Jewish opportunities,” he says. “Because of issues such as Anat Hoffman’s arrest at the Kotel…. North American Jews don’t see an Israel that reflects their core values.”
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky is said to be working on a compromise to ensure that the Kosel “continue to be a symbol of unity for all Jews in the world and not a symbol of strife and discord.”
Sources — speaking on the condition of confidentiality — have told Hamodia that what Sharansky has in mind is to transform the Robinson Arch area on the south side of Kosel, where this group already has the right to meet, into a new, bona fide division of the Kosel, dedicated for the use of Reform and Conservative gatherings, complete with mixed-gender services and women chazzanim.
While the current makom tefillah at the Kosel will presumably be preserved under the plan, this plan remains very perturbing. The Kosel isn’t ours to give away. The makom Hamikdash was chosen by Hashem, and the Shechinah has never departed from the Kosel haMaaravi.
Sharansky is currently visiting the United States and it is important that he receives a clear message: Leave the Kosel alone. There are enough real issues and true challenges facing the Jewish nation. The Kosel isn’t — and shouldn’t be — one of them.