The High Court hearing on the mixed-gender prayer at the Kosel saw Justices Miriam Naor and Judges Chanan Meltzer and Yoram Danziger criticize the state for its June decision to freeze plans to provide the alternative prayer area. At issue is the development of an area next to the Kosel Plaza for the use of reform and conservative groups who wish to hold services, as well as for the Women of the Wall group. A plan to do so that had been approved by the government was frozen last June, and reform and conservative groups filed petitions that were heard Thursday demanding that the plan be un-frozen.
In Thursday’s hearing, the court essentially gave the state a choice — either implement the plan or we will force it to be implemented. If the state continues to fail to implement the plan, the court could also impose an alternative solution — forcing the opening of a mixed-gender prayer area in the Kosel plaza, the justices said. “Freezes are made as part of a legal process. Is the government prepared to return to the original plan? If the state does not cancel this freeze, it will have to respond to us on whether we have the authority to require the plan to be put into effect,” said Naor.
But beyond the bluster, according to Moshe Polsky, the legal adviser for the Liba organization, is an attempt by the court to pressure the government to act and resolve the issue, instead of leaving it to the legal system. “The Kosel issue is a hot potato for everyone, including the High Court,” according to Polsky, the legal adviser for the Liba organization, which works to strengthen legislation aimed at instituting more Jewish values in Israeli society.
“The court doesn’t want the burden of deciding what to do because they realize a lot of people will be unhappy whatever is decided,” he told Hamodia in an exclusive interview. “The judges slammed the state for refusing to take responsibility.”
Liba was one of the first organizations to point out the danger of the Kosel mixed-gender prayer plan. Originally, the idea was to set up a small space at Robinson’s Arch for mixed-gender prayer, but that plan has expanded significantly in recent years.
“The Reform and Conservative groups will only use the space for bar mitzvahs and other ceremonies; it’s not like they are going to come and pray every day,” said Polsky. “What this is really about is recognition by the state.”
According to a Liba report, “from a small area without official status (administrative, budgetary or religious),” the area to be allocated for mixed-gender worship “will be turned into a huge space with status equal to that of the main Western Wall plaza, with a singular definition that the new space will be managed solely in accordance with Reform customs, in keeping with the policy of the council to be established jointly by Reform, Conservative and Women of the Wall representatives. The approval of these arrangements represents a tremendous hazard and breach of the status quo, by granting recognition to the Reform and Conservative organizations, for the first time in the history of the state.” It is this status and recognition, said Polsky, that the groups are truly interested in.
The best way around this, believes Polsky, is legislation that will anchor the Kosel as a place of worship that must adhere to Halachah. Right now, the Kosel is under the administrative control of the Rabbinate, which has, based on previous High Court rulings, instituted a policy that worship at the Kosel must be conducted “according to the traditional customs of the site.”
However, that will not necessarily apply to the Robinson’s Arch prayer area — which, as the group pointed out, could be as large and prestigious as the main Kosel plaza and prayer area.
“Their real game is to get recognition from the state, and open up ‘their’ prayer area to recruit secular Israeli families to their cause,” said Polsky. “Secular Israeli families that don’t care about mixing genders during davening would be targeted for membership” in Reform and Conservative synagogues and organizations, bringing with them dues, and more importantly, numbers — numbers they need in order to bolster their organizations, given the devastating assimilation they have brought to American Jewry.
“Knesset members must step up and take a stand,” said Polsky. “The word of the public is very important in this case. If it’s clear that the Knesset and Israelis in general want to keep the Kosel a makom kadosh, it will remain holy.”