‘Whimper at the Wall’

Birkas Kohanim at the Kosel last year Pesach. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Birkas Kohanim at the Kosel last year Pesach. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

The pluralistic prayer service at the upper plaza of the Kosel organized by the Reform and Conservative movements on Thursday afternoon did not attract the large numbers they had hoped for.

The size of the mixed-service was exaggerated in media reports as being in the “hundreds,” but eyewitnesses who spoke to Hamodia said that the actual figure was probably in the dozens, about a busload of visitors.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President Emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel noted that the turnout was unimpressive.

“The Reform and Conservative leaders have been insisting that they represent masses of Jews all over the world. They called for a massive prayer this afternoon, but very few showed up.

“I think there were more yeshivah bachurim singing “Toras Hashem Temimah” than there were participants of that Minchah event. And I commend those bnei Torah, they acted responsibly. Their singing and dancing was the real event today.”
Rabbi Lerner, who has long been active in the fight against the Reform movement, warned that “we must be vigilant. The liberal movements want to change everything —The Kosel is just a method. They want to change kashrus, gitten, nesuin, geirus, Shabbos, the chief rabbi, everything.”

He called on the Orthodox community to mobilize, with missions to Israel to meet with government officials, and to share the facts about the actual decline in heterodox membership. “They are few and we are many; they are disappearing and we are growing,” he said.

When asked if she saw hundreds of Reform activists, Leah Aharoni of Women for the Wall, an Orthodox group which upholds the traditions of the Kosel, said: “Nope. I saw a busload of Reform. Everyone else was frum.”

But it was more than a question of numbers. As Aharoni said: “We find it tragic that the Reform and Conservative movements have yet again chosen to turn the Kosel Plaza into a public relations battlefield in their fight to change Israel’s religious landscape.

“If we want to preserve the sanctity and the status quo both at the Kosel and in Israel in general, it is up to the frum community throughout the world to make its voice heard in preserving the kedushah of our holy places.”

“Today’s attempt by the Reform and Conservative movements turned into the whimper at the Wall. A few dozen liberal activists turned up. This failure is indicative that the threats by the liberal movements of a rupture within world Jewry are smoke and mirrors. The conflict over the Kosel seems to interest only a small activist core in these movements,” added another observer.

Dov Kalmanovitz, a member of the Yerushalayim Municipal Council, who was present at the scene on Thursday, told The Jerusalem Post that he believed that Orthodox traditions of separate men and women prayer should be preserved at the site, and termed the event “an unacceptable provocation.”

He said he was also opposed to the plan to upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the Robinson’s Arch area, saying that “the entire Kosel is holy and we need to have separation of men and women along its entire length.”

Following the event, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement sympathetic to the Reform and Conservative movements:

“As we continue to work towards a solution that will allow all Jews to feel at home at the Kosel, there are those who would prefer to divide our people and even to say that other Jews are wicked or aren’t Jews at all. We all must unequivocally reject these inappropriate words and deeds, which run counter to the basic spirit of the state of Israel.”

One Reform leader, Gilad Kariv, complained to Army Radio that chareidi protesters were “cursing and shoving, and police aren’t lifting a finger.”

In response, Aharoni told Hamodia that “We call on people to abstain from any violence.”

There were harsh exchanges between the pluralistic activists and chareidi protesters who arrived toward the close of the event, but no serious incidents occurred. A heavy cordon of police was on hand, but they did not see fit to intervene and no arrests were made.

A full-page ad sponsored by Women for the Wall was scheduled to appear in the Israel edition of The Jerusalem Post on Friday, containing facts and figures about the Reform and Conservative movements, and an appeal for respect of the sanctity of the Kosel.

The ad seeks to correct the false impression of the widespread support for these groups, noting that “only 25% of American Jews are members of Reform or Conservative congregations; the intermarriage rate for U.S. non-Orthodox Jews is 71%. In Israel, less than 0.5% of Jews are members of liberal congregations.”

The ad addresses the strategy of their leadership, which has repeatedly threatened to withdraw support from the state of Israel if they are denied official recognition in the country:

“We ask the Reform and Conservative leadership: Is love for Israel a Mitzvah, or something you threaten and bargain with? We ask that you respect Israel and its religious traditions at the Kosel, which reach back millennia.

“We call upon the Prime Minister and the Israeli Government to ensure that the time honored traditions of the Kosel are respected and preserved.”

Updated Thursday, June 16, 2016 at 3:36 pm