By HaRav Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
A Controversy Fed by the Supreme Court
We have recently been caught up in a renewed controversy about the status of the Western Wall, in the wake of the government decision to allow non-Orthodox prayers in the southern section (the lower level, which is today available to tourists) – based on a recommendation by a committee headed by Avichai Mandelblit – who was the secretary of the government at the time and has since been appointed the State Attorney. The Chief Rabbinate, Chareidi parties, and some of the rabbis of Chardal (nationalistic Zionists) have come out with harsh criticism of this attempt to "place an idol in the Sanctuary" by giving Reform Judaism some sort of formal recognition. A verse that seems appropriate is the description of the prophet, "A memory in My house and in My walls" [Yeshayahu 56:5].
In my humble opinion this subject has gone beyond reasonable limits. On the contrary – the warlike sounds merely play into the hands of the Reform groups, who are always on the lookout for new angles of legitimacy to be granted them by the Supreme Court, as will be detailed below. Let me start out with a declaration: This is not an issue of the sanctity of the southern section of the Wall and the halacha of showing respect for holy places. Not only tourists but also foxes have always freely roamed the area, for the entire length of the Wall, but nobody has ever complained about desecration of the holy area. On the Temple Mount, children play soccer, barbeques of nonkosher foods are held, people dress as if they are on the beach, and the Chief Rabbinate makes no fuss about the situation. The real subject is not the sanctity of the Wall but the struggle against the Reform Jews – their gaining recognition and pushing into any and all "religious" corners, with the cooperation of the Supreme Court.
Let me make one point clear: We have been dragged into a struggle about the Wall by a request for an injunction brought by the "Women of the Wall," who claim that they are Orthodox! (Note that some of them refuse to accept the proposal that has been offered.) The Reform Jews did not turn to the Supreme Court, and they are not involved in the legal proceedings. They simply came along for the ride. The same is true of the Prime Minister and those who support the non-Orthodox sectors in the United States. The Supreme Court responded to the "Women of the Wall," and based on the religion of equality gave the government a limited time to organize the matter, while threatening to allow the women to put up their own holy arks and Torah scrolls. This is the real background of the compromise at the Wall, which is meant to placate the small number of "marching women" who have appeared, wearing their talitot and tefillin.
So far so good. However, the Reform sector has now joined forces with the "marching mirrors," and they are now part of the team that has taken up the issue. The "proposed solution" invited the Reform Jews into this process that had been set in motion, through the back door, without any need for them to request an injunction of their own from the courts. The government decision (as it exists when I write this article) sets aside an area at the southern part of the Wall that will be managed by a director (Natan Sharansky) who will report to a council that consists of representatives of all the sectors which pray at the site. The Reform sector, which misses no opportunity to increase its symbols of legitimacy, caught the scent of a pool where they could add themselves a worthy prize, and they immediately declared their victory: "For the first time, the government of Israel has formally recognized us... We also have a share in the deity of the State of Israel."
Well, I would like to suggest a different and more perfect solution to this dilemma: Establish a "Southern Wall Area for Tourists" which will not have the status of "a holy site." It will be under the control of the Ministry of Tourism or the local municipal government. It will allow all manner of respectable ceremonies, without any regard for religion, race, or sex. And we will not have any need for additional declarations of legitimacy!
The Reform Community in Israel is a Marginal Threat
Let me repeat my position, which I have stated before, regarding the proper way to treat the Reform community in Israel: The stubborn opposition to them only gives them greater strength. It allows them to collect victories with the help of the Supreme Court, which will never be defeated by legal means. Even if there is some possibility of passing a "Law of Jewish Nationality," there is no way that a "Law of Orthodox Nationality" will ever pass. However, the power of the Reform community is in the realm of the Supreme Court and not out in the field. I do not see legions of Israelis waiting to join their ranks, even if their leaders will be able to cover themselves with waves of legitimacy. The irreligious people in Israel have no need to join Jewish communities, and the main reason that they join them in the United States is not relevant here. The following are some examples which show that the best reaction to their demands is to "let them have their way, and they will go away on their own."
- The Neeman Committee was established in 1997 in response to pressure and demands for injunctions by the Reform Jews to recognize their conversions. The Neeman compromise (1998) allowed them to appoint representatives to the managing board of the "Institute for Preparation of Conversion" (but not the rabbinical courts). The Chief Rabbinate and the Chareidim cried out just as they are doing now with respect to the Wall, but the danger and the tumult have long since died down. In the field, in the realm of conversion, they have no effect at all. The Reform Jews were awarded a slip of "legitimacy" and they went away in silence.
- Reform petitions demanded that non-Orthodox representatives should be allowed to serve on local religious councils. As a matter of course, they were given this privilege, and the religious parties and the Chief Rabbinate became angry. What happened in the end? The petitioners got their slice of legitimacy, and again they quietly left. Who has heard anything about their activities on the councils? (Note that many nonreligious people serve on the councils, but nobody hears anything about it.)
- More recently, the Reform communities won a judgement in the Supreme Court on the subject of mikvaot, ritual baths, which allows them to have their converts (who will not be recognized as Jews!) immerse in public mikvaot. Just great! Chalk up another victory! But this has no real effect at all! No convert will join their community because of this "achievement." Again they will quietly leave the area.
Therefore, with respect to the issue of the Wall, all of these declarations – "Desecration of the holy realms of Yisrael... An idol in the Sanctuary... This will be a reason to disband the coalition... We will fight to the end of our energy..." – are empty excited cries. The number of people who join non-Orthodox communities in Israel will not increase in the wake of enhanced legal legitimacy. Rather, the Reform communities will gain explicit support in direct proportion to how strongly we, the Orthodox communities, relate to them as "the enemy."
Take this as a warning!