The Jerusalem Post
Bill for egalitarian prayer at Kotel brought by coalition MK
The legislation calls to create a state-recognized prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall plaza
The Western Wall will have official, government-approved egalitarian prayer, according to a new bill submitted by MK Alon Tal of Blue and White, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s governing coalition.
The bill, if passed, will implement a resolution creating a state-recognized egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall that was passed by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government but abandoned under haredi (ultra-Orthodox) pressure four years ago.
The Western Wall deal called for a large, state-recognized egalitarian section there that would be accessible from the main Western Wall complex and run by a board of relevant members, including progressive Jewish representatives and members of the Women of the Wall organization.
In his role as minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Bennett built a plaza at the southern end of the wall in 2014 that was set to be upgraded as part of the Western Wall agreement, which was written by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit when he was Netanyahu’s cabinet-secretary. An identical bill was submitted in the 20th Knesset by then-MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), who is Orthodox.
The bill comes after several hundred hardline religious-Zionist activists descended on the current 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 Tisha Be’av evening service, which includes the reading of the Book of Lamentations and prayers of mourning for the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, and sang during the Masorti group’s reading of Lamentations, making it extremely difficult to hear the reading.
The large number of religious-Zionist activists also set up a gender-separation divider, in opposition to the custom of the egalitarian section, and also prevented dozens of Masorti worshipers who came a short while afterwards from entering the site.
“Instead of unity and baseless love, even the small section for Jews who want to pray according to their faith was stolen by extremists on Tisha Be’av,” Tal wrote on Twitter. “I am sure the current coalition will ensure that all the streams in Judaism will be respected.”
President Isaac Herzog said he was disturbed by the incident and hoped action would be taken to ensure it would not happen again.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter that the behavior of the religious-Zionist group that tried to take over the egalitarian prayer site was “exactly the extremism and baseless hatred that led to the destruction and the exile.”
“The Kotel belongs to all streams of Judaism: Orthodox, Reform and Conservative,” Lapid wrote.
DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Nachman Shai told Army Radio that it was wrong to increase “wickedness and hatred” on Tisha Be’av.
“We have not learned anything from history, and I am angry and disappointed about that,” Shai said.
“There is no reason why a group that is trying with full force to steal from what little the Reform and Conservative movements have should receive their little part of the southern section of the Western Wall.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said he was outraged by the incident. He called on Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid to take all necessary steps to enable all Jews to worship undisturbed at the Western Wall from now on.
“I am beyond appalled and dismayed by the baseless hatred demonstrated by a group of extremist Orthodox zealots who disrupted the lawful Tisha Be’av service conducted by Conservative Jews at the section of the Western Wall set aside for egalitarian prayer,” Lauder said.
“The non-Orthodox streams of Judaism are every bit as legitimate as the Orthodox. If not unequivocally condemned by the Israeli government, this latest provocation will only drive a further wedge between Israel and the Diaspora.”
Darkenu, a non-partisan NGO, sent a letter to Bennett and other ministers demanding that progress be made as quickly as possible on the
Western Wall agreement, which is intended to create egalitarian prayer spaces at the site.
Darkenu also called for an increased police presence to allow Jews of all streams of Judaism to pray at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall.
“As a religious, Orthodox Jew, I am ashamed at religious Jews spreading hate on Tisha Be’av,” said Darkenu CEO Yair “Yaya” Fink. “The Western Wall belongs to all Jews in the world.”