Michael Boyden

Charedi Jurisdiction over the Kotel

Aryeh Deri, a convicted criminal, who served time in prison and only last year admitted that he was also guilty of tax evasion, is now urging the government to introduce legislation to “preserve the sanctity of the Western Wall and the adjacent plaza.”

Among the clauses of the bill that is being proposed are ones that forbid the conducting of any religious ceremony that does not conform with the practices of the chief rabbinate; providing religious services not sanctioned by the Rabbi of the Kotel; and reading Torah, wearing a tallit or laying tefillin in the women’s section of the Kotel.

Those found guilty of infringing the law would face three months in jail or a fine of 10,000 shekels!

A short history of the Kotel is in order. It was never part of the edifice of the Temple as some mistakenly believe, but was built by King Herod in the 1st pre-Christian century to enlarge the area of the Temple Mount.

Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz rightly asserted that “these remains have no meaning” or sanctity. He disdainfully referred to them as a charedi “Disco-Tel”.

A photo of the Kotel from 1880 shows men and women praying together. When we went to the Kotel in 1967 following the Six Day War, men, women and children, religious and secular, flocked there together. There was no mechitzah separating men from women and no Rabbi of the Kotel to tell us what we could or could not do.

Only later would the charedim, who took no part in the battle for the Old City, conquer the Kotel and claim it as their own.

But the Kotel is not theirs. It is part of our national heritage, and belongs to all Jews both in Israel and in the Diaspora. Just as the Jewish world is pluralistic, so the Kotel must be pluralistic and open to all who wish to worship there.

Denying that right and enshrining that in legislation would be just one more step towards Israel becoming an halachic State.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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