Violence and “terrorism” broke out yesterday at the Western Wall (kotel) in Jerusalem when a group of more than 150 Reform Jews and their rabbis came to pray and to read from the scrolls of the Torah in honor of four newly ordained Reform rabbis by the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.
The president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, was punched and badly beaten by the security guards at the Wall who threatened to spray him with mace.
The chairperson of the Women of the Wall movement for egalitarian prayer at the Wall, Anat Hoffman, was grabbed by an ultra-Orthodox man who pulled at her in an effort to grab the Torah scroll out of her hands.
And the executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, was arrested by police and detained for questioning.
All the men and women who were carrying Torahs were kicked and beaten by the security guards.
This was a declaration of war by the Orthodox against the non-Orthodox male Jews and women. Violence such as this was unheard of at the holy kotel, since the days of the British mandate when Arabs rioted at the kotel beating and killing several Jewish worshippers.
First, we need to examine the reasons of both sides for this unholy war at a holy site…the holiest for Jews, since Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount, is not accessible to us.
Israeli Jews are comprised of two separate groups…those who observe the laws and traditions of Judaism as described in Jewish law and those Jews who are liberal and secular and who pick and choose which laws they will obey and which ones they discard.
Orthodoxy is the only branch of Judaism that is recognized as authentic by the Israeli rabbinate. Reform and Conservative Judaism, practiced by the majority of non-Orthodox Jews all over the world, is considered ex-cathedra in Israel, and is not regarded as being real Judaism by the Israeli rabbinate and the Israeli government.
In Israel, all matters of life and death are controlled by the rabbinate…birth, marriage, conversion, death and burial. Only Orthodox rabbis are authorized to perform these functions.
Clergy in Israel receive their salaries from the government, not from congregations as is the custom in the diaspora. Therefore, rabbis in Israel are civil servants. There is absolutely no separation between religion and state in Israel. Orthodox Jews are members of the Knesset and the Cabinet. They can make or break a governing coalition at will.
Non-Orthodox Jews in Israel have no other option. All marriages and divorces are performed only by the Orthodox rabbinate. Jews who do not accept this have to fly to Cyprus for a civil marriage or divorce. Yet the liberal secular Israeli Jews laugh at Reform and Conservative Judaism. It is alien to Israel having been founded in 19th century Germany and transported to America and Great Britain.
Even for non-observant Israelis , the only Judaism which they do not observe is Orthodoxy. And when they do attend a synagogue, the synagogue they go to is Orthodox.
At the kotel, there is separation for male and female worshippers. Women are prohibited from reading the Torah and those who do so are subject to harassment and often violence by the Orthodox men. Chairs are thrown at them and some are physically beaten. But the women continue to insist on their civil and religious rights for egalitarian prayer.
Diaspora Jews who visit in Israel also demand egalitarian prayer. To accommodate them, a special area known as the Robinson’s Arch, adjacent to the main section of the Wall, had been created to allow men and women to pray together.
It was not satisfactory to the non-Orthodox Israeli Jews and not to diaspora Jews who made demands on the government and were supported by Israel’s Supreme Court who ordered the government to create a special section at the Wall for secular Jews.
Prime Minister Netanyahu met with the leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel and made a solemn promise to accommodate their co-religionists at the Wall.
The ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition threatened to topple the government and call for new elections unless the Prime Minister backed down from his promise. Which, regrettably and unfortunately, he did. He broke his “solemn” promise. He and Donald Trump have much in common.
In reprisal, Reform and Conservative leaders threatened to communicate to their synagogues around the diaspora world to withhold contributions to Israel and to lessen support of Israel, to reduce travel to Israel by their fellow co-religionists which would be hazardous for Israel’s tourism and hotel industry.
The non-Orthodox branches have considerable power outside of Israel due to the fact that they are the largest majority of worshipping Jews.
Yesterday’s ugly and violent war at the Wall has been described as a disgrace of the Jewish religion. And who is to blame? The fault must lie with Prime Minister Netanyahu who broke his word to the leaders of the liberal branches of Judaism.
He is the puppet of the ultra-Orthodox. When they pull the strings, Bibi does a dance. Without their support, he could not be the Prime Minister of Israel.
And for him, keeping his seat as head of government is more important than keeping his promise.
Without the possibility of compromise with the Orthodox, the war at the Wall will continue.