This deal, if it goes through, affects the status of the central national holy place of the Jewish people and will make it officially, for the first time – and, God forbid, perhaps irrevocably – the sole preserve of haredim who will be able to banish anyone or any Jewish group which does not follow haredi understanding of halakha (Orthodox Jewish law) and custom. What has until now been a de facto usurpation by haredim, done without any national deliberation at all and without consent, would become official government policy. This is what is at stake here for all of us.
Shulamit Magnus – a Jewish historian who is an award-winning author, a founder of Women of the Wall, and a plaintiff in a lawsuit currently before the High Court of Justice that calls for the enforcement of the already confirmed legal the right of Jewish women to read Torah at the Kotel (Western Wall) – writes in the Jerusalem Post:
…Avichai Mandelblit, [a haredi ba'al teshuva who is now] Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, has for several years led the negotiations to conclude a deal that will remove women’s tefilla from the Kotel, a top haredi demand, and to relieve pressure from the Reform and Conservative movements for some official respect in Israel. Mandelblit is about to become [Israel's new] attorney-general. He is a lawyer. He knows Supreme Court cases. After reading ours, he suddenly had tremendous incentive to push the negotiations to conclusion. The Supreme Court’s deadline for the state to give its response to our suit is now, January 29, 2016. Not that we didn’t know it but the clearest indication of the strength of our suits is the speed and determination with which the state is determined to conclude these negotiations.
Here’s who has been at the table with Mandelblit: the Reform and Conservative movements; Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center (IRAC) and chair of Women of the Wall; Rabbi Rabinowitz, backed by haredi MKs.
The movements want state recognition of mixed-gender, egalitarian services at Robinson’s Arch, an archeological site adjacent to the Kotel area. These services already exist there, including bat and bar mitzvas. What the movements hope to gain from a deal are embellishments at Robinson’s and some structural changes so that the entry to Robinson’s will be more prominent, with signage indicating that this is the egalitarian prayer area. Symbolically, this is very important to those movements, tantamount to state recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism, not at the Kotel, but near it.
Anat Hoffman is caught between the mandate of the charter of Women of the Wall, which states that the group’s non-profit status is based on its pursuit of women’s prayer in the women’s section of the Kotel, and her status as a paid employee of the Reform movement. Her group has done remarkable peddling around this conflict of interest to present the removal of women’s tefilla from the Kotel to an alternate site, and its inclusion there as an afterthought to egalitarian tefilla, as somehow in accordance with its charter, or even its name: Women of the Wall.
Then there is Rabbi Rabinowitz, representing the haredi establishment, who has defamed Jewish women for the act of prayer, for donning sacred garments, and for reading Torah (“blasphemy”) – acts which, when performed by men, are called “mitzva.” Who sent police to detain and process us as criminals for – this. Who has been agitating openly for us to remove ourselves from the Kotel, sending public notices of dis-invitation to the national holy site of the Jewish people: the administrator of the site telling Jews we are not welcome there. Unless we act like his kind of Jew/women.
What’s in this deal for him and the haredi establishment? After all, it gives recognition in public space to Reform and Conservative Judaism, not something we would expect they would sign on to. We have been told the payoff is not simply banishment of women’s group prayer from the Kotel but official recognition of the Kotel as a haredi synagogue, matching recognition Robinson’s as a site of egalitarian prayer. Or perhaps, agreement to banish women’s tefilla itself establishes the Kotel as officially haredi.
Partisan players and politics, business as usual in Israel, one might think. Except that this deal, if it goes through, affects the status of the national holy place of the Jewish people and will make it officially, for the first time and God forbid, perhaps irrevocably, the preserve of one segment of the Jewish people, theirs from which to banish any who do not adopt its practice. What has until now been a de facto usurpation, done without national deliberation, let alone consent, would become enshrined, officially. This is what is at stake here for all of us. The “reward” for years of outrageous behavior and incitement, for rank intolerance and the preaching of hatred, will be – the Kotel.…
Read it all here.