Liberals in the bubble: The link of Western Wall struggles to Temple Mount activists

MK Yehuda Glick, one of the leaders of the movement for Jews prayers on Temple Mount and a nationalist-Orthodox, surprised many in his statements in favor of the Reform Jews, spoke in a Reform synagogue and gained condemnations from Orthodox circles. Quite a few of the “Temple Mount activists” expressed their support for the “Kotel Compromise” and the “Women of the Wall” feminist struggle. Many nationalists follow with sympathy and hope the struggle of the liberals for presence and participation at the Western Wall: the implementation of the liberal principles of equality, freedom of religion and worship cannot be stopped at the bottom of the mountain, but will also have to be implemented on Temple Mount itself. The support of Orthodox-nationalist circles to liberals is not only the result of wishful thinking, but is based on the tradition of the High Court of Justice rulings on their issue over a period of 50 years.

In 1967, the government of Israel decided that Jews would not be allowed to pray in public, in groups, on the Mountain. The “Temple Mount Faithful Movement” wasn’t happy with the fact that Jews were not going up the Mountain for their prayers. They interpreted this reality as a failure of sovereignty implementation. Unable to influence the rabbinic authorities to change their rulings prohibited Jews to go up onto the Temple Mount and to support the movement political inspirations, they plead to the High Court of Justice.

The High Court, a distinctly secular institution recognized in its repetitive rulings the right of every Jew to go up on the Mountain and to pray there. In 1967 Justice Shimon Agranat, president of the Court wrote:

“The holiness of the Temple Mount to the Jewish People is eternal, now and ever, not depending on any government and as so is standing beyond any deliberation.”

15 years later the High Court makes its position very clear:

“The fundamental point of departure is that every Jew has the right to go up onto the Temple Mount, to pray there and to Commune with his Maker. It is a fragment of freedom of religious worship. It is a fragment of freedom of speech.” (Justice Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court, High Court of Justice, 2725/93)

One may suspect that the honorable court did not take great pains to perform an in-depth investigation of precisely what freedom of worship the Jewish religion is interested in and whether Jews’ going up onto the Temple Mount is in fact a manifestation of this freedom.

We are observers of an interesting encounter between the secular court using liberal principals and the religious communities and individuals who is trying to assist. In this case the repeated pleads to the High Court and its decisions empower a significant change in the position of growing number of orthodox nationalist rabbis and communities.

The target of first pleads to the High Court by the Temple Mount Faithful Movement was the government of Israel. These pleads challenged the government decision as of 1967 that no public prayers by Jews will be allowed. The government authority to act against the principal of religious freedom was questioned by the court, and its rules protected the religious freedom of the individuals and the way was open to implementation of the principal of freedom of worship for groups and public events. At this conjunction, the City Police came into the scene and brought to the attention of the court that implementation of the principal of religious worship is a potential for violation and danger to human life. On the legal level, the appearance of the city police in the court strength the rights of the pleaders for freedom of religion and worship beyond any doubt, as the court repeatedly emphasized. In the same time, till this point, the court prevented public events of worship based on arguments of public security.

High Court rulings on the Temple Mount were given parallel with rulings on the “Women of the Wall”. The two cases coincide with their adherence to the principles of freedom of religion and worship. In both cases, the court referred to the violent response of those who might be offended by the change in the order of prayer in the holy place: Jewish activity on the Temple Mount led to violent outbursts by Muslims, and Women’s prayers at the Western Wall to violence by Orthodox Jews. But while on the Temple Mount the expected violence prevented the implementation of the rulings, at the Western Wall below, the police forces were required to ensure freedom of religion and worship of the praying women.

A comparative analysis of the public and legal proceedings in both cases shows that they are conducted as if there is no connection between them. Court deliberations, negotiations between the government and the “Women of the Wall”, and later the discussions between the government and the Jewish liberal religious movements which led to the consolidation of the “Kotel Compromise”, take place as if the necessary changes in the name of the principle of equality and freedom of religion are not connected to one of the most explosive places in the world. The protests of members of the Muslim Waqf against the new arrangements at the Western Wall and in contrast, the hopes of the Temple Mount Jewish activists to implement them, remained without attention. Nothing jeopardizes the promotion of the values of democracy and equality like liberals living in a bubble and do not anticipate the consequences of their activities a few dozen yards from their battlefield.

The writer is the Rabbi of Har Adar township, Israel, and a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

About the Author
Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg is the rabbi of Har Adar township, Israel, and a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute