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Orthodox Jews Attempt to Reclaim Part of Western Wall Where Other Jews Pray

Orthodox Jews Attempt to Reclaim Part of Western Wall Where Other Jews Pray

Conservative and Reform Jews say the Israeli government’s refusal to follow through on its promise to provide them a part of the Western Wall space for alternative prayer is allowing ultra-Orthodox and nationalist Jews to claim the spot as their own.

“Right-wing political and religious groups are taking advantage of this vacuum, and we lack the legal status to prevent this provocation,” said Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Conservative movement in Israel.

On Sunday (Jan. 1), a group of 40 Jewish nationalists aligned with the organization Ateret Cohanim and other right-wing groups held an Orthodox prayer service at Robinson’s Arch, a secluded part of the wall where the Conservative movement has helped organized bar- and bat-mitzvah ceremonies for more than a decade.

Then, after the prayers, an Orthodox family intruded on the bat mitzvah of a Conservative girl who was reading the Torah by standing between her and the Western Wall.

When asked to respect the bat mitzvah an Orthodox woman said, “This is a public place and we can pray wherever we want.”

Sunday’s Orthodox prayer service, one of several held at Robinson’s Arch in recent months, also delayed a scheduled egalitarian service by non-Orthodox Jews at the site.

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar, a staunch opponent of more liberal streams of Judaism, has declared that the “holiness” of Robinson’s Arch “cannot be undone. Not by the courts, the government … or gentiles, the U.N., or any other power.”

Yehudah Vald, a spokesman for the Liba Center, another group that has been holding Orthodox prayers at the site, accused Reform and Conservative Jews of inventing a new religion.

“It’s not Judaism and we will not give them this recognition,” Vald told The Jerusalem Post.

One bone of contention with the more liberal streams is the practice of egalitarian prayer, where men and women sit or stand side-by-side during services. Orthodox Jews typically construct a divider between the sexes.

The Israeli Cabinet voted last year to turn Robinson’s Arch into a government-funded space for more liberal streams of Judaism, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spearheaded the initiative to placate American Jews, has refused to implement it due to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox members of his governing coalition.

Until the coalition agreement is implemented, Hess said, “egalitarian prayer will not be the accepted norm” at Robinson’s Arch. The Chief Rabbinate prohibits alternative prayer at the traditional Western Wall.


Michele Chabin is RNS' Jerusalem correspondent

Courtesy: Religion News Service

Publication date: January 4, 2017