Don’t restrict victims from praying at the Kotel

For the past 30 years, Haredim have been attempting to turn the Kotel into an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. Despite Israeli court cases ruling against this, the Israeli government, the Chief Rabbinate, and even at time the Israeli police, have refused to follow court rulings. Haredim have effectively banned all tefila at the Kotel that does not match ultra-Orthodox standards.

Western Wall Plaza Jerusalem Israel Wikimedia

One of the groups opposing this is the Original Women of the Wall (תפילת נשים בכותל.) Also opposing this are various Modern Orthodox rabbis, as well as Masorti (Conservative) and Reform (Progressive) Jewish movements. None want an end to Orthodox groups praying as they choose their; they merely want the ability to pray according to their own custom, without intimidation, threats, and violence.

In recent years the Haredim have intensified their verbal, and sometimes physical attacks on Jews who pray there. Women who dare to wear a tallit and tefillin; women who read from the Torah; groups that have egalitarian minyanim.  In response, some groups have been pursuing a legal course to allow them to pray without interference – a conclusion that the Israeli courts have already agreed with.

Yet some non-Haredim have proposed a peculiar, indeed bizarrely harmful “solution” to the problem, including attorney Susan Weiss and Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. Cardozo insists that we must “free the site of all synagogue services [or trappings]: no no minyanim, bar mitzvahs… Torah scrolls… mechitzot… make it a place… solely for individual prayer and meditation… as our ancestors treated it… where Jews can… pray [or not], and share what we have in common instead of focusing on what divides us.”

We strenuously disagree. That’s in fact surrendering to fundamentalist intimidation. Why ban most Jewish people in the world from being able to daven in a minyan there, just because certain Haredim are acting inappropriately? We never achieve justice by punishing the victims.

No one should say that our daughters must be forbidden from having their Bat Mitzvah there, just because certain individuals are angry or violent.

Robin Silver-Zwiren writes:

The idea of a mixed group administering the Kotel is great. If the Hareidi don’t agree to sit with women, Reform Jews or even Modern Orthodox Jews, then they are off.

I don’t agree that the Kotel should not be available for prayer. Eli haKohen once served while Chana prayed. Jesus even made his tri yearly pilgrimage to the site. We may not have the Temple Mount (yet) but the Kotel is as close as we can get.

If group prayer is forbidden then it is likely the Arab world will say that the Kotel is unimportant to us. The UN and the media will see that we don’t care much for what remains of our remaining Temple wall except to make it a national holy site. What comes next – no praying allowed at Kever Rachel? If we downgrade the importance of the Kotel as a fundamental prayer site, rather than just a historical monument, we lose our heritage.

The fact that even secular Jews want to visit Israel and the Kotel proves it has meaning. I have friends from Southern California who are Reform. It is not like the Israeli Reform synagogue that I attended last Shabbat where all men wore kipot and all those who read from the Torah, male or female, donned a Talit. My friend’s son is having his Bar Mitzvah in Israel over Succot because he chose this over the usual extravagant events his classmates will do. Mom and other female guests want to be a part of the simcha and Robinson’s Arch may end up to be their only option. However they would prefer to be at the Kotel where our ancestors stood thousands of years ago.

If only we could have a mixed faction in charge of the prayer services. Not the Haredi who disturb women’s services by “praying” even louder to drown out women’s voices, or those who come over to the women’s section to cause trouble. I personally believe the mechitza should remain but a mother should be able to hear and see her son chant from the Torah scroll. Just like I was able to do in our Orthodox synagogue when my son had his Bar Mitzvah and my daughters’ gave a dvar Torah when they celebrated their milestone. A raised platform so that women can see over the mechitza is not damning halacha. It is the men who look over at the women rather than facing the Wall who are desecrating the laws.

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