Tuesday, June 27

The Western Wall Fiasco Fractures Diaspora Jewry

English: Western wall in Jerusalem at night
English: Western Wall in Jerusalem at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Jewish religion is an ancient monotheistic faith with a history that goes back nearly 6000 years; Judaism belongs to all Jews. The Torah has seventy faces, which means that it is open to many interpretations. There is nothing in Judaism that states that Halacha is not open to various interpretations. Professional Jewish scholars are in yeshivot argue over various aspects of Jewish Law, re-interpreting many of them to suit the times. Today this progression into the modern age has ceased and any changes or waivers from existing traditions have to receive the authority of recognized and revered rabbis.

One of the greatest reformers was Rabbi Hillel, the Elder and his opponent, the more conservative Rabbi Shammai, who was strict and intolerant towards any re-interpretation of Jewish Law.

Today, Judaism has become pluralistic with four main streams. Orthodox (ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox), Conservative, Reform and a small stream known as Reconstructionist.  The latter usually aligns itself with the Reform movement.

Most affiliated Jews in the Diaspora, especially in the US, are members of non-Orthodox streams and their attitudes toward women are egalitarian. Women have total equality with men and there is no separate seating in non-Orthodox synagogues for men and women. Unfortunately, in Israel, most observant Israeli Jews are affiliated with Orthodox Judaism and the non-Orthodox streams are viewed as unacceptable and are not recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate. They have no rights to marry couples and have no representation at all in the corridors of power.

Haredi Orthodox lawmakers and some from the Jewish Home and Likud parties in December submitted a bill to the Knesset to prevent non-Orthodox public prayer at the Western Wall. 1

A top ultra-Orthodox lawmaker defended his opposition to an agreement that would have created an official pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall, saying Monday the move would have harmed Jewish unity and decrying Reform Judaism, which had pushed for the solution.2

The plan to allow non-Orthodox denominations to pray at the Western Wall in accordance with their own beliefs and traditions was passed in January 2016 with the silent consent of the Cabinet's ultra-Orthodox ministers.3

Reform and Conservative Jews are loyal to Israel. They support the fight against BDS and donate large sums of money to Jewish causes in Israel as well as charity. All they received for this was a slap in the face by the present Netanyahu Government. This occurred when the agreement of a space near the Western Wall for egalitarian prayer for both sexes was scrapped after years of negotiation by PM Netanyahu because the ultra-Orthodox Shas, Yahadut Hatorah Parties and Habayit Yehudi threatened to leave the coalition if the deal made with the non-Orthodox streams to have mixed prayer services at a place near the Western Wall allotted for that purpose was signed. Netanyahu backed off.

It is a great pity that Netanyahu succumbed to the pressure of his bigoted ultra-Orthodox partners many of whom are from the Chasidei “Gur-nisht mit Gur-nisht” sect and their erstwhile, old fashioned archaic “Custodians of Judaism” partners of the ultra-Orthodox Parties in the Knesset, with their extreme dislike of Reform and Conservative Jews. These ultra-Orthodox party members are experts on religious extortion, dictating their desires on Israel’s Government with Netanyahu at the helm. His promises of an egalitarian place to pray near the Western Wall have been broken. This is another attack on Jewish religious freedom. It appears that the non-Orthodox streams in Judaism are not welcome in Israel. American Jews who are Reform and Conservative should ask themselves whether Israel should be on their list for support if the Netanyahu Government moves in this direction of betrayal.

The ultra-Orthodox Parties in the Netanyahu Coalition Government are there for one purpose only - “if you scratch my back, we’ll scratch yours!” This means that they will support the government on condition that they give into their religious, financial desires including religious coercion and exclusion of Reform and Conservative Jews from the Jewish People by restricting the practice of their rituals at the Western Wall. 
  1.  19 Jun. 2017, https://www.jta.org/2017/06/19/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/haredi-orthodox-parties-propose-resolution-to-cancel-western-wall-egalitarian-agreement. Accessed 27 Jun. 2017.
  2. 26 Jun. 2017, http://www.timesofisrael.com/with-western-wall-deal-quashed-ultra-orthodox-lawmakers-lambaste-reform-judaism/. Accessed 27 Jun. 2017.
  3. 27 Jun. 2017, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/06/israel-ultra-orthodox-netanyahu-western-wall-alliance-likud.html. Accessed 27 Jun. 2017.


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