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On dreams and compromise at the Wall

Settling for a small egalitarian area and hoping non-Orthodox Israelis will choose to come pray there

“Every person lives in his own different world,” writes Israeli songwriter Ehud Banai. “What for you is a dream, for me is a nightmare.” This is often true in life.

Last week it was announced that the Ezrat Yisrael space at the southern end of the Western Wall will be enlarged and opened to all who wish to pray there. This is a partial overturning of official Israeli policy, and as the Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, which ordains Masorti rabbis, I am glad of it – even though it is a compromise.

Yes, alongside Ezrat Yisrael, non-egalitarian prayer will be conducted at the northern end of the Wall, where the men’s section is about five times that of the women’s. In addition, the Rabbi of the Wall has been given a greater mandate to not permit women to pray as they wish, despite the many Halakhic rulings that do allow it. Still – a compromise is a compromise.

My dream is to have egalitarian, mixed prayer at the entire Wall, allowing for non-egalitarian prayer that allows women a place. But I understand that this dream is someone else’s nightmare. Just as his dream — of all prayer at the Wall being entirely Orthodox with no room for women, or no possibility of women donning prayer shawls, praying aloud or reading from the Torah — is my nightmare.

The compromise recently reached reflects the current situation of 2016. Time will tell if it reflects the appropriate middle ground. My hope is that Ezrat Yisrael will become the preferred option by the majority of Israeli Jews and tourists.

I hope that it will also encourage more families to mark their daughters’ Bat Mitzvah with a religious ceremony at the Wall, or anywhere else. Ezrat Yisrael respects men and women alike and gives a place for the entire family to celebrate together; for a mother to stand by her son as he puts on tefillin or is called up to the Torah for the first time, and the same for a father and daughter.

The new arrangement expresses the idea that all Israel has a share in the Torah and in Jewish tradition, and anyone may take part. The hope and challenge is that more people — Israelis and our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora — feel that the Wall belongs to them, just as the Torah and cultural tradition of Israel belongs to them.

I would like to express appreciation to the government and its leader. At a time when it often seems we have devolved into a democracy based solely on the rule of the majority, it is good to see the government take notice of different groups within the nation so that both the majority and the minority can enjoy some satisfaction. It is my hope that this approach continues to expand to other spheres as well.

English translation by Penina Goldschmidt.

Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch is Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem.

About the Author
Rabbi Avi-Novis Deutsch is Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, which trains Masorti/Conservative spiritual leadership for Israel and the world.