In Defense of Holiness

When a group of approximately 60 mispallelim, led by Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, arrived last Tuesday morning at the southern expanse of the Kosel, the area was, as usual, empty.

While the Israeli government has designated this area as the site for Conservative and Reform groups to use, daily prayer is not part of their liberal, social agenda, and the space is used infrequently for celebrations or protest gatherings.

Rabbi Amar and other members of the group erected a temporary mechitzah and davened Shacharis in the same manner as Torah Jews have faithfully done throughout the generations. He then spoke briefly and emotionally about the sanctity of the Kosel.

In a reaction that sounded eerily reminiscent of the logic applied by the residents of the ancient city of Sedom, the infuriated leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements called it an “act of robbery” and a “desecration of the Kotel prayer space at Robinson’s Arch.”

Determined to take revenge, they decided on a provocative gesture certain to cause deep anguish to Torah-observant Jews. On Thursday afternoon, several dozen members — far fewer than had been expected — held a mixed service in the upper plaza of the Kosel in clear view of the Kosel.

Their outraged response reminds us of the old — possibly allegorical — tale of the time that the Karaites demanded of a foreign king that they be recognized as the “true Jews.” The king ordered Torah Jews to hold a disputation with the Karaites.

When the day of the debate arrived, the Rav representing the Torah Jews walked into the room barefoot, holding his shoes tightly in his hand.

“Your Majesty,” the leader representing the Karaites declared to the king, “look at the disrespect the Rabbi is showing you.”

The king promptly demanded an explanation, and the Rav obliged.

“When Hashem first revealed Himself to Moshe Rabbeinu at the burning sneh, Moshe was instructed to remove his shoes. Afterwards, when he wanted to put back on his shoes, he discovered that his shoes were gone, as the Karaites had stolen them,” the Rav told the king. “Ever since, whenever we are in the presence of Karaites, we make sure to hold on to our shoes.”

“But that is absurd,” the Karaite leader shouted. “During the time of Moshe there weren’t any Karaites. Only many centuries later did our movement begin…” Only after he blurted out this admission did he realize that he had effectively conceded the debate.

We do not have to take off our shoes in order to ascertain the undisputable fact that when our ancestors — along with the souls of all Jews for all generations to come — received the Torah at Har Sinai, the Reform and Conservative movements did not exist. Nor were there any Reform or Conservative members around when Shlomo Hamelech built the Beis Hamikdash. They themselves will willingly admit that.

Some have expressed surprise over why the Reform are so insistent about holding mixed services at or near the Kosel, yet make no effort to do so on Har HaBayis. After all, since they don’t recognize halachah, the fact that great poskim have prohibited Jews from ascending this holy mountain is meaningless to them.

The answer is a simple one. These movements, which have long rejected and disassociated themselves from the eternal truth of the Torah, have no interest in or connection with the Beis Hamikdash. They don’t mourn its destruction or pine for its rebuilding, and have no purpose for the Kosel as the sacred place of tefillah from which the Shechinah has never departed.

There is no shortage of large but empty temples in which these movements can hold services. (In their heyday, both Reform and Conservative movements had a devastating effect on the Jewish people; today, however, they are struggling to find a way to survive — let alone fill their empty temples.)

It is because the Kosel is so holy to Torah Jews that it has become the perfect spot for them to seek to further their insidious agenda. The primary goal of the rabble-rousers who gathered last Thursday in the upper Kosel Plaza is to wage war against Torah Jewry and all that it stands for.

Emboldened by the unprecedented legitimacy given them by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and encouraged by an Israeli High Court which rarely misses an opportunity to deal a blow to chareidi Jews, Reform and Conservative groups now portray themselves as the sole proprietors of the southern expanse of the Kosel, as the first step to eventually taking over parts, if not all, of the actual Kosel area.

Through his actions and public statements, the prime minister has made it clear that he himself is so disconnected from a Torah way of life that he has no moral or ethical compunctions about handing over parts of the Kosel area to the Reform. It is only pressure from the Chief Rabbinate and the askanim that has prevented him from already doing so.

However, even from a purely political perspective, he is allowing himself to be hoodwinked by well-connected Reform leaders in the United States, who claim to represent the diaspora.

Less than 0.5 percent of Israeli Jews are members of liberal congregations. Only 25 percent of American Jews are members of Reform or Conservative congregations, and many if not most of them have no interest in the Kosel or in fighting over it.

American Torah Jewry has a key role to play in this battle over the sanctity of the Kosel. Every effort must be made to explain to Netanyahu that it is observant Jews, and not the Reform, who pour astronomical sums of money into the Israeli economy. We are the ones who come to Eretz Yisrael for Yamim Tovim and Lag BaOmer. We are the ones who send our children to learn in Eretz Yisrael, and we are the ones who purchase a long list of Judaica as well as kosher food and wine products from Israel. We are the ones who collectively donate massive sums of money to Israeli-based charities.

We must make it clear to Netanyahu that the Kosel is not ours — or his — to give away, and that we will do everything we possibly can to protect the holiness of this area from those who are determined to desecrate it.