Should non-Orthodox Judaism be allowed more freedom of worship at the Western Wall?
JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Sitting in his office 20 feet above the Western Wall Plaza, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is unperturbed by the simmering tensions below.I don't like Reform Judaism any more than the next person whose default is Orthodox, assuming Hoffman is one herself, because of how otherwise negative their stand on Israel and Zionism happens to be, but in fairness, the prayer books won't melt if a Reform Judaist wants to pray with that kind of shawl or sing there, and I think it's ridiculous that this should be considered a crime. At worst, it gives religious movements with questionable positions a potential weapon to use against Israel.
For years, Israeli and American Jewish groups have agitated for greater religious freedom at the Wall, which currently allows for only Orthodox worship. Occasionally the outrage boils over.
In October, Israeli police arrested Anat Hoffman, the chairperson of Women of the Wall, a group that organizes monthly women's services at the holy site, for wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl.
As the chief rabbi of the Kotel, as the Western Wall is known in Hebrew, and chair of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the government funded non-profit that governs the wall, Rabinowitz has sole authority to accommodate liberal Jewish practices.Very intriguing. So he was given the keys to the Kotel by a left-wing politician, and has made sure to abuse his position ever since. His defense that the house will be too stuffed also sounds like a cheap excuse. If he doesn't think Reform or even Conservative Judaism, the latter which my family used to belong to years before, is legitimate or just plain thinks it's crud, why doesn't he just say so, for heaven's sake? Rabinowitz is just another of the Haredi politicians who's sadly been embarrassing his sect by acting like a supremacist and as though being a Haredi means never having to say you're sorry.
But as a haredi Orthodox rabbi, Rabinowitz refuses to abide any deviation from traditional Jewish law, which prohibits women from singing aloud, reading the Torah and wearing a tallit at the Kotel. Violations are punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine of about $125.
“The decisions are mine,” Rabinowitz said. “If everyone does their own custom, the house will explode.”
Rabinowitz is a political appointee, named to his post in 2000 by then-Minister of Religious Affairs Yossi Beilin. His authority stems from a 1981 law that gives the Kotel’s chief rabbi power to “give instructions and ensure the enforcement of restrictions.” The law also establishes that any prayer at the Kotel must be according to “local custom.”
Who determines local custom? Rabinowitz.
Rabinowitz further exercises authority through the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Founded in 1988 to promote tourism and support the Kotel’s physical upkeep, the foundation is now a government subsidiary, given full authority over the Kotel's administration in 2004. Last year it received nearly $8.5 million in government funds, the bulk of its budget. The foundation's 15-member board includes no non-Orthodox representatives and steadfastly has resisted attempts to legalize non-Orthodox worship.In a manner of speaking, yes, they have. No wonder I decided I couldn't remain silent on what I saw as corruption in the Haredi community ever since I took a good look at those reports from Beit Shemesh. Depending on the subject, their antics can end up harming even the non-Haredi Orthodox crowd.
“The body which has been given the keys of the Kotel by the Israeli government is a non-democratic, non-elected body,” said Lesley Sachs, Women of the Wall’s director. “It’s not a body that gives any kind of representation to world Jewry or Israeli Jewry. They have turned [the Kotel] into a haredi synagogue.”
Critics charge that Rabinowitz has carte blanche to do what he likes, but the rabbi insists he doesn't “change things.” He merely applies millennia-old Jewish laws.Look who's talking! A blatant man who won't allow other streams of Judaism to pray according to their customs. Point: if they couldn't blow the shofar during the British occupation, that would surely include women who wanted to do the same.
“This is the order that’s been there for 45 years,” he said, referring to the period since 1967, when Israel conquered the Kotel from Jordanian control.
Prior to Israeli control, things were different. Photos from the British Mandate period show worshipers praying at the wall without a mechitzah, the religious divider that slices the plaza into separate sections for men and women. But Rabinowitz says the photos are meaningless, since the wall wasn't under Jewish sovereignty at the time.
“They couldn’t read Torah or blow the shofar,” he said. “They could hardly pray there. The British did terrible things. You want to go back to that? The British didn’t establish local custom.”
Rabinowitz calls the Kotel “the biggest synagogue in the world,” and it's almost certainly the busiest, with 8 million visitors annually. The courtyard of 22,000 square feet that abuts the Kotel hosts constant, simultaneous prayer groups, in addition to rows of people resting their foreheads on the ancient stones, yelling their prayers or placing notes in the Kotel’s cracks. In the women's section, which is about a third the size of the men’s, group prayer is much rarer because women are not allowed to sing out loud or read Torah.Never mind the singing, what I want to know is why the women's section is smaller than the men's? Don't they want more women to be able to attend?
Maybe the Women of the Wall do just want to be noisy and little more, but if people like him would learn to have a thick skin about it and just ignore their approach to prayer, then things could work out for the better, and the Reform movement certainly wouldn't have an issue to go by that could be used as a weapon against Israel. Rabinowitz is going to have to decide if he considers other sects of Judaism inferior as compared to Haredi type or not. He also owes an apology for his stinginess.