ANALYSIS: The Battle Over the Kosel Resumes

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

The Women of the Wall, as they call themselves, have decided to resume their campaign of desecration of Judaism’s holiest place.

They number no more than a few dozen members, but enjoy the backing of the Israeli secular media and of the Israeli High Court, which has issued a series of rulings that provide encouragement to these women to carry on toward their objective of turning the Kosel into an arena open to all and to everything.

On Wednesday morning, a new phase of the struggle is expected to open, as the High Court is scheduled to convene and announce its decision on the petition of the women to be permitted to enter the Kosel plaza with sifrei Torah in their hands, to hold minyanim for women and read from the Torah.

Given previous rulings handed down by the court, the chances of a ruling favorable to the petitioners is high. It will be surprising if the judges do not support the desecration of the Kosel, consistent with the spirit of the resolution from the U.N. that was issued in recent days.

Thus, we find ourselves once again in a battle over the sanctity of the Kosel.

The 15 members of the U.N. Security Council decided, on the initiative of the outgoing president of the United States, that the Kosel and the Old City of Yerushalayim in its entirety are not part of the state of Israel.

Exactly 72 hours later, a parallel blow was struck by Women of the Wall, who arrived with a Chanukah menorah and lots of matches to the Kosel plaza and defiantly lit the candles amid singing and dancing, thereby violating, in a deliberate and organized fashion, the norms which have prevailed there for the past 50 years, and, for that matter, throughout history.

A confrontation broke out between them and women to whom the sanctity of the Kosel is truly precious, and police had to intervene to separate the two groups.

But the big battle is yet before us, when the High Court makes known its decision on Wednesday morning. The demonstration at candle lighting, so soon before the court’s decision, was just part of the pressure these women are bringing to bear on the judges. This week, flyers were distributed at Reform centers in Israel calling on people to go to the Kosel with their own menoros and candles for “women’s lighting.”

The struggle of the Women of the Wall — along with another group, called the Women’s Justice Center, which split off from them because they said they were not militant enough — has been going on for several years. The state granted them their own area adjacent to the Kosel, and invested significantly in making it suitable for their gatherings. However, these two women’s groups decided that the solution was not satisfactory. They insisted on a place at the Kosel plaza itself — testimony to the fact that it is not a gathering place they seek, but a division of the Kosel itself.

The Women of the Wall filed a petition against the decisions of the government and against the Rabbi of the Kosel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who said they could not have what they want. The petition has been under review at the Court for several weeks, but until now no final decision has been reached.

Meanwhile, the second group mentioned above submitted another petition, demanding immediate access to the Kosel, where they can take out sifrei Torah and hold readings for women in the main plaza.

The state asked the judges to consider the two petitions together and render both their decisions Wednesday. But judges refused the request, and said they will take up the petitions separately.

This should come as no surprise. The first petition was formally joined by the Reform movement, and others who have for years fought Orthodox Judaism in Israel. At the same time, the Court refused to accept an opinion from the Chief Rabbinate in answer to Women of the Wall.

In lieu of proper input from the Chief Rabbinate, the chareidi organization Women for the Wall submitted an opinion. One of the group’s leaders, Leah Aharoni, said: “It cannot be that under the aegis of the High Court this handful of women will transform the Kosel while violating the rights and offending the sensibilities of hundreds of thousands of women who visit the Kosel regularly, and without the voices of the mispallelim being heard. The Women of the Wall are acting with the backing of the Reform movement to distort the Kosel and Judaism in general.

“After the Reform has ravaged the Jewry of America,” Aharoni continued, “they seek to import this disaster to Israel. We cannot let this happen. Acceptance of their petition would be an offense to the tradition of all the generations, and to the huge number of mispallelim and mispallelos today who wish to preserve those traditions.

“In this context, we — nine members of Women for the Kosel — have submitted this statement in response to their petition. We also wish to make clear that in our opinion the Court has no jurisdiction in this matter, as the claim of the petitioners regarding discrimination is without foundation.

“We regret that the Chief Rabbinate has not been allowed to submit its opinion, which would be fitting, as the highest religious authority in the state should be heard on all matters pertaining to the order of tefillah at the Kosel.

“It should be noted that the state attorneys have related only to the proposed plan for tefillah at the Kosel, but not to the essential issues. There is no guarantee that the Court will wait for implementation of that plan, especially in light of the fact that the Women of the Wall have rejected it. If so, it would appear that the Women of the Wall would be permitted to hold their ceremonies in the Kosel plaza itself.”

The High Court is a body which has already demonstrated more than once in the past its anti-religious agenda. From the beginning of this legal battle, the judges, headed by President of the Court Miriam Naor, have been sharply critical of the state for not implementing the plan for the Kosel plaza, and that the whole affair has been dragged on “without end.”

Behind the scenes, the Reform movement has been lobbying the government to establish a new body that will administer the Kosel, in which they will be represented, thus giving them for the first time a say in the administration of the holiest place in Judaism.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who wants to preserve his ties with the Reform leadership, knows that the Orthodox and traditional groups in Israel will not give in on this crucial matter, and has therefore changed his position, and will not allow the Reform to enter a governmental body concerning the Kosel.

At the beginning of the year, the Israeli government approved the plan to allow the Reform, Conservatives and Women of the Wall a place just south of the Kosel plaza, as mentioned above, while the separate tefillos for men and women remain as always in the main Kosel plaza.

But after the government saw the unyielding opposition to the plan by the Orthodox, in particular from Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Dovid Lau, who explained to members of the government that the aim of the women was not to have a place for their gatherings but to desecrate the Kosel and give it over to Reform and Conservative groups for mixed ceremonies, Prime Minister Netanyahu said openly that the government will have difficulty implementing the plan.

Now the Reform movement pins its hopes on the High Court. But their prospects are about equal to those who hope that the Security Council will drive the Jews out of Yerushalayim and, in particular, the Kosel and the Old City.