I was once a member of a panel at a Jerusalem symposium on religion and state. Next to me sat Anat Hoffman, the chairperson of the Women of the Wall.
“I oppose any type of coercion,” I explained to the crowd in the room, “whether it is religious coercion or whether it is secular coercion.”
“Can you give us an example of secular coercion?” someone in the audience asked.
“Certainly,” I answered, and pointed to Anat Hoffman, who was sitting next to me. “Anat Hoffman is a walking example of secular coercion.”
“Me?” retorted the astounded Hoffman.
“Yes,” I answered. “The Western Wall is almost one kilometer long. They have been offering you every possible place for your prayers. But you insist on forcing yourselves on the traditional worshippers. What can be more coercive than that?”
Prayer at the Western Wall is not what the Women of the Wall and parts of the Reform community are getting at. They have already been allotted an appropriate and extremely picturesque place for their prayers (called Ezrat Yisrael) next to Robinson’s Arch at another section of the Western Wall – and it remains empty. There is no reason to believe that after another 40 million shekels are invested to make a plaza there similar to the size of the current plaza – that it will suddenly be filled with Reform worshippers.
There are approximately 40 Reform synagogues in Israel, as opposed to approximately 50,000(!) traditional synagogues (Reform is less than 0.25%). When a fly demands his share of food equally with an elephant, that is not a compromise and not equality. It is called coercion.
The new agreement reached between Israel’s government and the Women of the Wall does not achieve an arrangement (which already exists, as stated above). On the contrary – it will create a new battle arena. Where will the IDF soldiers hold their swearing-in ceremonies? (I can already see the appeal of the parents of the Reform soldiers to the High Court) and the rest of Israel’s official ceremonies? Into which section of the wall will the President insert his note with prayers? Why did they bring the visiting foreign VIP to their Wall and not to ours?
Here are a few facts about the Western Wall:
The Western Wall is not holy and it is not a remnant of our Holy Temple. The Western Wall is part of the expansion project of the Temple Mount undertaken by Herod. The famous saying of our Sages, “The Shechinah (G-d’s Presence) has never left the West wall” refers to the western wall of the sanctuary of the Temple, itself – certainly not to the retaining wall of the Temple Mount. There is no such thing as “Jewish law of the Western Wall” because according to Jewish law, the sanctity of the Western Wall is no different than the sanctity of the Jerusalem Convention Center. The truly sacred place, according to Jewish law, is above the Western Wall, on the Temple Mount, which we abandoned to the Moslems.
The Western Wall is a sentimental place for Jews. Over the past hundreds of years (before that, Jews prayed in different places) it has absorbed the prayers and longing of Jews from all over the world. As such, it is certainly precious to our Nation. Historic value, personal and national sentiment – yes. Not sanctity and not Jewish law.
The Western Wall is not a synagogue. It is a national heritage site. Thus, “Jewish law rulings” pertaining to the Wall have nothing to do with law, but rather, with hegemony. Rabbinic Judaism, which represents the absolute majority of Jews and their natural lease on the customs pertaining to the site throughout the years – is doing all in its power to preserve its status (this is quite understandable). But it has no connection to Jewish law.
The place where Jewish law is trampled upon on a daily basis is just a few steps from the Western Wall; at the truly sacred site – the Temple Mount. Approximately half the commandments in the Torah can be fulfilled only there, on the Mount. Some of those commandments can be performed even if the Holy Temple is not built. Tragically, the Temple Mount has become a place for Arab soccer games, picnics, incitement and ISIS.
This situation on the Temple Mount does not seem to disturb the Jews; neither the religious Jews nor the other denominations. All of them prefer to abandon the site of our Holy Temple to wild Islam and to bicker down below over the plaza at its feet.