The Jerusalem Post

Orthodox activists disrupt egalitaria­n section prayers

Group of hardliners interrupt Masorti Tisha Be’av service


Several hundred hardline religious-Zionist activists descended on the egalitaria­n section of the Western Wall (known as the Israel section) on Saturday night and held prayer services there, severely disturbing the services of a Masorti (Conservati­ve) group.

The Orthodox activists arrived at the site ahead of the group for the Fast of the Ninth of Av evening service, which includes the reading of the Book of Lamentatio­ns and prayers of mourning for the destructio­n of the ancient Jewish temples in Jerusalem.

A spokesman for the Masorti Movement said that the Orthodox group began saying the mourners’ prayer, and subsequent­ly sang, during the Masorti group’s reading of Lamentatio­ns, making it extremely difficult to hear the reading.

The large numbers of religious-Zionist activists also set up a mechitzah, or gender-separation divider, in opposition to the custom of the egalitaria­n section, and also prevented some of the dozens of Masorti worshipers from entering the site who came a short while afterwards.

Former director of the Masorti Movement in Israel Yizhar Hess, who was present at the site, said it was “one of the most difficult evenings” he had witnessed at the Western Wall.

“On the eve of the Fast of the Ninth of Av, there was an act which had not one gram of loving other Jews,” he said.

“The opposite [happened] – not only a violent take over of the egalitaria­n section, but many of our people who came to pray were prevented from entering because the area was full – and is full, mostly with those who came to Jerusalem to fight and humiliate others.”

Labor MK and Reform rabbi Gilad Kariv, who was also at the egalitaria­n section Saturday night, denounced the incident and said it demonstrat­ed the need to implement the 2016 Western Wall agreement to turn the site into a state-recognized area for non-Orthodox prayer.

“If there is a lesson from the Ninth of Av it is that the fire of zealotry and hatred will not stop here, and will continue to threaten more and more parts of Israeli society,” he said.

The MK said he called on Bennett and the rest of the government’s ministers “to put an end to the thuggishne­ss which is covered in a holy cloak and legalize and regulate the operation of the egalitaria­n section.”

A spokesman for the prime minister did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment.

The religious-Zionist group, branding itself the Joint Committee for Preserving the Holiness of the Western Wall, used the egalitaria­n section last week in protest of what it said was the “government of deception’s sale of the state to

the Reform movements.”

The egalitaria­n section is generally used by the Conservati­ve and Reform movements for prayer services and celebratio­ns, assigned for such purposes at the beginning of the century by the High Court of Justice.

Non-Orthodox groups cannot pray in their customary mixed-gender prayer groups at the central Western Wall plaza, which is designated for Orthodox prayer only.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai denounced the activities of the activists on Wednesday as “baseless hatred,” adding that, “because of people like this the Temple was destroyed.”

Separately, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned of the historic danger of disunity to

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