The Kotel and the Battle for Religious Equality - ARZA

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The Kotel and the battle for religious equality - ARZA

The focus of this ARZA article is the recent events in Israel relating to the Kotel and the battle for religious equality.  These events are summed up in this extract from an article “Israel’s High Court Sends Clear Message to Government: Reconsider 'Frozen' Western Wall Deal” written by Ha’aretz correspondent, Judy Maltz.  To read the full article visit the ARZA Australia Facebook page or see: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.809904.

This issue has become a key issue in the fight for acknowledgement that there is more than one way to be Jewish and also a vital issue with regard to the relationship between the State of Israel and non-Orthodox Jews around the world.

This issue, and other matters crucial to the work of ARZA Australia, will be at the top of the agenda for Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, when he visits Australia later this year.  This will be a very special opportunity for members of the community to hear firsthand about recent developments, and to consider what future events will be.  

“Chief justice slams government's behavior on egalitarian prayer space at Jerusalem holy site: 'There was a deal, and now the government says it doesn't exist. What happened here?'  Israel's Supreme Court sent a clear message to the government on Thursday that it wants it to reconsider its decision to suspend a plan to create a new egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. 

The two-and-a-half hour hearing was held in a packed courtroom attended, among others, by a group of former paratroopers who had conquered the Western Wall during the 1967 Six-Day War. They came to show support for Women of the Wall. “This is a good beginning,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, at the conclusion of the session, “but there are definitely signs of difficulty ahead.”

Women at the kotelAnat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, said the justices appeared to be trying to salvage the Western Wall agreement, which was approved by the government in January 2016 following three years of negotiations. “Once again, we see the Supreme Court is acting as the responsible adult, and sometimes responsible adults have to force us to do things that are good for us that we’re afraid to do.”

The plan for an egalitarian space at the Western Wall was never implemented, because of opposition from the ultra-Orthodox parties that are part of the governing coalition.

The government’s reversal of its commitment to build a new prayer plaza sparked a major crisis with Diaspora Jewry. After the decision was announced, the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, which was convening in Jerusalem at the time, canceled a dinner that had been scheduled with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in protest. A delegation of leaders from the Reform movement also canceled a meeting that had been planned with Netanyahu.  After numerous delays, the government finally responded to the High Court petitions last month. The government insisted that it had not reneged on its original commitment since it had recently drafted plans for a multimillion-dollar overhaul of the Wall’s southern section to accommodate egalitarian prayer services.

On Monday, the non-Orthodox movements and Women of the Wall presented a summation of their arguments to the High Court in which they rejected the new government plan, noting that Robinson’s Arch is not officially part of the Western Wall. “Right now, [the state] is offering the petitioners such a whittled-down proposal that it contains nothing of the original plan and will further entrench the severe and immeasurable harm to the rights of the petitioners,” they wrote. The petitioners argued that the government was proposing to create a new category of “second-class Jews” relegated to pray outside the Western Wall area. They said they were not willing to pray in an area “which the state does everything it can to hide from the public and to insist is not part of the national and religious site.”

According to the existing regulations, worshippers are not allowed to bring their own Torah scrolls onto the premises. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation has dozen of Torah scrolls available for use in the men’s section, but it has consistently rejected requests by women to gain access to them.

Over the past year, feminist activists have managed to smuggle Torah scrolls into the women’s section. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation has responded by subjecting women to controversial strip searches when they arrive at the site for their traditional monthly gathering. Last week, two rabbinical students from the United States were stopped and asked to lift their skirts and shirts during such a search.

Steve Denenberg

President
ARZA Australia

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