Using the Kosel to Gain Respectability

It is a sad day, a bechiyah l’doros, when the Reform movement is allowed to make a mockery of Judaism’s most sacred site, the remnant of our holy Beis Hamidkash, to turn it into a tool for gaining recognition in Israel and abroad.

To be sure, the decision by the Israeli government Sunday to designate an “egalitarian prayer space” at the Kosel was taken under duress. It was not a reflection of the will of the people — the Reform movement has never succeeded in gaining significant support in Israel — but rather the fear of having an even more objectionable arrangement imposed on it by the High Court of Justice, which was set to rule on the matter within a matter of days.

The decision, an unprecedented victory for the Reform and Conservative, is the result of provocations, manipulations and big money from abroad. As Harav Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rav of the Kosel, put it, “ever since the fringe yet noisy group of ‘Women of the Wall’ started its media activity, the Kosel has been changed from a unifying place to one of unending, incessant disputes.”

A handful of women with a clear agenda and no feeling for the dignity of the Kosel or for the rights of those who come to the sacred site to pour out their hearts, kept the story alive with their monthly Rosh Chodesh provocations. With the help of well-paid PR people and legal advisers they figured out how to manipulate the system, how to circumvent the will of the majority.

A victory for the Reform and Conservative anywhere is a loss for Judaism, all the more so in Eretz Yisrael, in Yerushalayim, at the Kosel, the site where all Jewish eyes and hearts are turned. It is precisely at this spot that they wanted a foothold, to be used to gain respectability everywhere.

As Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, said, the decision on “egalitarian prayer space” will make the Reform movement “a powerful force” in Israel. The Reform will be perceived by many innocent Jews as being on “equal footing” with Torah Judaism. After all, on arriving at the Kosel, Jews will have the option of choosing a “traditional” service or a “modern” one that offers women equal rights and families the chance to pray together.

The message will be that they are equal alternatives. Never mind that pluralistic services and the like are an affront to the Kosel, the antithesis to what the Beis Hamikdash stood for, which is total subservience to Hashem.

The tragedy is that Jews from around Israel and around the world who would come to celebrate a family bar mitzvah at the Kosel were given an opportunity to daven in keeping with the mesorah. No matter what they did in their synagogue or temple back home, they understood that the Kosel was something special. This was real and sacred, no place for new-fangled populistic ideas. They approached its stones with reverence, with humility, with a willingness to surrender to the Will of Hashem, as has faithfully been passed down from generation to generation.

While Kariv speaks of using this week’s Cabinet decision as a “powerful force” in Israel, the leaders of the movement in the United States are hoping to use it to gain respectability everywhere. They have a track record of using the Israeli High Court to advance their agenda.

When Jews around the world insisted on Orthodox conversion because only that was accepted in Israel, the Reform and Conservative went to the High Court to force the government to accept their “conversions,” as well, removing an incentive to convert according to halachah.

Regardless of the precise status of the site that has been designated for egalitarian services, the goal of the Reform and Conservative is to gain respectability for their movement in Israel and around the world. And that is a very dangerous prospect, especially in the Israel of today where young people are ignorant of their heritage and vulnerable to being swayed by all kinds of populistic ideas about Judaism.

To be sure, every Jew is welcome at the Kosel. As Rav Rabinowitz clarified, the Kosel “remains open to any man or woman wishing to pray, at every hour of every day, out of respect and adherence to Jewish tradition and Jewish heritage, of which the Kosel Hamaaravi is the symbol par excellence.”

But it must remain above the fray; it must be allowed to continue as a place that unites and uplifts. Its sanctity as the remnant of the Beis Hamkidash must be honored.

To be sure, the current battle is yet another chapter in a long-running war, which was so courageously fought by the Chasam Sofer, Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and many other Torah giants.

This is a time that calls for fortitude, bravery, and moral courage.

In an age of political correctness, it is tempting for American Jewry to look the other way. But as Torah Jews we are obligated to do whatever we possibly can, both in terms of expressing our deep anguish and taking tangible steps to come to the aid of our brethren in Eretz Yisrael.