The Jerusalem Post
Orthodox activists interrupt Masorti bar mitzvah
Hardline Orthodox activists interrupted a Bar Mitzvah ceremony being conducted at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall by the Masorti (Conservative) Movement on Thursday night.
The activists from the religiously hardline wing of the religious-Zionist movement descended on the site, assigned for non-Orthodox, mixed-gender prayer, and set up a mechitza, gender separation divide in order to use the area for their own prayer services and Torah lessons.
Present at the incident was Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva based in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, and a prominent leader of the hard-line religious-Zionist community.
The group of Orthodox activists, which calls itself the Joint Committee for Preserving the Holiness of the Western Wall, has been using the so-called Israel Section egalitarian prayer area for several days this week for prayers and study sessions, despite the fact that it is used by the Masorti and Reform denominations who cannot pray according to their own customs in the central Western Wall Plaza, where only Orthodox prayer services are allowed.
These religious Zionist activists are avowedly opposed to non-Orthodox Judaism, and has vigorously opposed the expansion of rights and recognition for these denominations in Israel in recent years.
The Joint Committee plans to stage prayer services and study sessions at the
Israel Section (the egalitarian prayer area) on Saturday night, the beginning of the Fast of the Ninth of Av, when the Masorti Movement also has a program scheduled at the site.
“A group of extremists purposefully interrupted worshipers who were celebrating, men and women together, while putting up a mechitza and reducing the area for the [Masorti] group,” said Rakefet Ginsberg, director of the Masorti Movement in Israel.
“It is unbelievable that those who talk so loftily of the Land of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the People of Israel, dare to behave with such violence, crassness, and thuggishness against other Jews at the Western Wall,” continued Ginsberg.
She called on “communal and spiritual leaders, journalists and regular citizens” to protest the sequence of events.
“The thunderous silence in the face of the theft of our one ‘prized possession’ and the abysmal hatred of those who simply want to pray in their own manner, is disgraceful and shameful,” Ginsberg added.
In response, a spokesman for Aviner said that there was no “seizure” of the site, and said that the Orthodox group and the Masorti group “got along fine” during the incident.
He added that Aviner “blessed the bar mitzvah at the end of their prayer service,” and said that some of those present at the Masorti event approached Aviner for a blessing after their service.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai denounced the activities of the activists on Wednesday as “baseless hatred,” adding “because of people like this the Temple was destroyed,” in reference to the Fast of the Ninth of Av which commemorates the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, the second of which the Talmud attributed to “baseless hatred” among the Jewish people.
The liberal religious-Zionist group Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah also condemned the hard-line Orthodox activists, saying that “instead of working towards unity and bringing Jews closer to God, these organizations are choosing to forcibly take control the prayer area established for those who want to pray in accordance with their own customs.”
The organization added that it was saddened that the Orthodox activists were using prayer services and Torah lessons “as a tool of demonstration.”