Of Tradition and Peaceful Co-Existence

More than a week has passed since the Israeli government grudgingly agreed to freeze a highly contentious and controversial plan to upend the longstanding status quo at the Kosel, and yet the political backlash that decision has sparked continues unabated.

From the howls of indignation emanating from the Reform movement and its supporters, the uninitiated observer would assume that the Kosel is a Reform temple somewhere in Germany, built by Abraham Geiger himself, and now after nearly a century and half, extremist chareidim have dared to seize control of this building, and frighten the daylights out of the worshippers by erecting a mechitzah.

Amid the harsh recriminations, the calls for dialogue and for “achdut,” what is sorely missing is a calm reckoning of the facts of the matter.

Isaac Mayer Wise, one of the leading pioneers of Reform in America and founder of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the umbrella organization for Reform clergy in the United States, would likely have been astounded to learn that those carrying his mantle would one day wage a battle over the Kosel. In Minhag America, the prayerbook he put together that was widely accepted by American Reform Jews in the mid-19th century, he went to great pains to remove all mention of Yerushalayim or malchus Beis Dovid. Like Germany-based Reform leadership of the time, Wise and his successors saw no role for the Holy Land or Yerushalayim, let alone the Beis Hamikdash, in the man-made theology they were creating.

With the passage of more than a century, and the establishment of the State of Israel, it became politically beneficial for the American Reform movement to shift its views somewhat on Yerushalayim.

In a 2015 resolution, the CCAR declared that the movement “recognizes the sacred status of the Temple Mount for both Jews and Muslims,” but is tellingly quick to add that, as far as they are concerned, “the Jewish holiness of the Temple Mount is due to its historic significance and not to any hope for rebuilding the Temple, re-establishing sacrificial rites, or restoring any future Jewish worship where the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock now stand.”

In other words, to the official voice of the Reform movement, the Makom Hamikdash is nothing more than an ancient relic, another Masada that is easier to access and not as hot in the summer. They openly acknowledge, even stress, that they have rejected any belief in the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash on this site.

Later, in the same resolution, the CCAR shows its hypocrisy when it declares that the Reform movement “stands in opposition to those Jews who attempt to alter the status quo by praying on the Temple Mount, which is contrary both to traditional Jewish law and practice as well as to peaceful co-existence.”

When it comes to Har HaBayis, the Reform leadership suddenly remind themselves of terms like “traditional Jewish law and practice” and “peaceful co-existence,” concepts they have long discarded.

After all, it is the Muslims who are the ones who object to Jews praying there.

Further along in the resolution, they spell it out in even more detail, stating that their group “affirms the freedom of religion and the right of persons to pray where they choose, while at the same time, asserts that the interests of peace and safety are, in this unique and extraordinary circumstance, best served when some rights are suspended and legitimate religious passions restrained in deference to the rights and sensibilities of others.”

Our question to the leadership of the Reform movement is a simple one: Why don’t fellow Jews deserve, at the very least, the same respect as Muslims do? Why is it perfectly appropriate — and on this we all can agree — to call on Jews not to go to Har HaBayis out of “deference to the rights and sensibilities of others,” but when it comes to respecting the feelings and tradition of Torah Jews who have been davening daily at the Kosel since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, whenever they had access, you take the precisely opposite approach?

There is no shortage of sites that have great historical significance for Reform Jews, both in Germany and in the United States. Many of the older temples have since been turned into churches, others are in ruins. It would be far more logical for these sites to be the subject of Reform interest than the Kosel, a site that represents all that Reform has sought to discard.

Yet there are no “Women of the Temple” or similar organization encouraging egalitarian prayer gatherings at these historic sites. The only logical explanation is that this was never about the Kosel per se, but rather an opportunity to wage war against observant Jewry.

One of the myths successfully promulgated is that this is a battle between chareidim, or as the media like to portray them, the “Ultra-Orthodox,” and the rest of Jewry. Even a cursory look at the facts belies that myth. Some of the most persistent warriors on behalf of the Kosel wear knitted kippot and could not possibly be mistaken for chareidim. For when it comes to the holiness of the Kosel, there is broad agreement and full understanding among observant Jewry.

In what can only be described as the ultimate chutzpah, Reform and its cohorts have successfully managed to con the mainstream media into thinking that somehow they are the victims here.

In contrast to the frenetic lobbying by the Reform leaders and their allies, Torah Jews, with only a handful of exceptions, have been silent on this matter. It is high time that the facts are publicized and the truth told as to who are the aggressors and who are the aggrieved.

After nearly two centuries of estrangement and indoctrination, we cannot expect the Reform leadership to suddenly be able to comprehend the holiness of the Kosel. All Torah Jewry is asking for is a continuation of the status quo: that the Kosel and its loyal longtime and other mispallelim be accorded the same respect civilized people — Reform included — so willingly grants the Muslims, and this is something that any unbiased observer should be able to comprehend.