Those following the fate of the Great Kotel Compromise must be, like me, shaking their heads in a state of disgusted disbelief, as once again the prime minister of the State of Israel puts his political future ahead of the health of the Jewish People.
On July 14, it will be six years since Rosh Hodesh Av 5770, when Anat Hoffman was arrested for carrying a Torah scroll from the Kotel Plaza to the designated reading area near Robinson’s Arch. Since that fateful day, women’s prayer rights in particular and progressive, egalitarian Jewish practice in general have flourished, in fits and starts, in the modern Jewish democracy.
The announcement on January 31 of the Great Kotel Compromise was hailed as a historic achievement by the Jewish People and the government of Israel. To see a modern day Jewish hero, Natan Sharansky, lead the effort to expand Holy Space in our day, was nothing short of thrilling as we experienced modern Jewish history in the making. However, that thrill is quickly evaporating with the realization that Israel’s political reality seems to be preempting the writing of a new narrative.
We all know that when David Ben Gurion granted authority over personal status and religious affairs to the Orthodox establishment upon the birth of the Jewish state, he never expected fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law to be the governing civil law of the state. However, as we all know, over the almost 70 years of statehood, that is exactly what has happened.
Consequently, couples go to Cyprus to get married, women become agunot as divorces are held captive to abuses of Jewish law, the conversion process is filled with obstacles, gender discrimination is tolerated on buses and in other areas of the public sphere, and, of course, ultra-Orthodox Jewish law reigns supreme at the Kotel.
Or at least it did until the Sobel decision in April of 2013 and the Kotel Compromise of January 2016. The impact of the compromise went beyond the Kotel — finally, the State of Israel was granting official recognition to the other streams of Judaism that are meaningful to a majority of the world Jewish population. In other areas of religious and personal life, changes are being proposed through the legal and political process to expand the range of what is considered legitimate and legal in the “spiritual” public sphere.
Yet, with every step forward, there seems to be two steps back. The announcement of this new committee, under the leadership of David Sharan, is a massive two steps backwards for the modern Jewish democracy movement.
When Mr. Sharansky suggests that any major changes to the Kotel Compromise agreement could “undermine the level of trust that has been established between the prime minster and the leaders of world Jewry,” the prime minister should listen. The prime minister has a choice before him. He can choose to tolerate a status quo that is intolerable to the vast majority of the Jewish population in order to keep his narrowest of governing coalitions, or he can stand up, once and for all, to those who are utterly intolerant of any type of Jewish belief or practice that is different than one narrow interpretation.
In a world where the legitimacy of the Jewish state is under attack, Israel needs world Jewry by her side. For the prime minister to lend his support to those ultra-Orthodox leaders who see the majority of world Jewry as illegitimate is nothing short of lunacy. It is exactly at a time like this that the relationship between world Jewry and the State of Israel must be stronger than ever.
Is there someone in a position of power and authority with access to the ear of the prime minister who can deliver this simple message?
Or, at the end of the day, is the prime minister concerned with just staying in power? Again.
He has 60 days to figure it out. To those of us who have been a part of the growing modern Jewish democracy movement, we don’t need 60 days. The answer is more than clear. Just ask Mr. Sharansky.