Many people belonging to the Reform and Conservative denominations arrived in Israel to mark the occasion of the convening of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency. During their stay, they took the opportunity to march in protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who they say has retreated from original promises under pressure exerted by the Haredi parties propping up his government.
The liberal protestors managed to bring 12 Torah scrolls into the area as the police looked on, failing to enforce the hitherto implemented ban on such actions imposed by the Kotel’s rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz. They also participated in a prayer service led by the Women of the Wall movement after the protest and then conducted a pluralistic Minyan (a communal service traditionally requiring ten Jewish men).
The liberal factions have long argued that their religious practices deserve respect and that the government needs to reach a solution which enables them to freely exercise and express their blend of Judaism at the holy site.
By contrast, the orthodox community regards women parading through the site bearing Torah scrolls—let alone establishing a designated area for mixed prayer—as a brazen affront to Jewish traditions.
The director of the Reform movement in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv said, “The Western Wall will not be the same after this day. For the first time, women and men, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and secular Jews, are all standing up for their right to enter the Western Wall. Today we liberated the site from the ultra-Orthodox control, they will not dictate to the majority of the Jewish people how to pray.”
Kariv called on the prime minister to implement the compromise decision previously taken to cater for the pluralistic Jewish communities. “We are not prepared to surrender anymore to the shameful Israeli government and to small vocal minority,” he declared. “If the government doesn’t implement the compromise then we, together with world Jewry, will return the Kotel to the hands of the entire nation.”
Anat Hoffman, director of Women of the Wall, praised the demonstration, claiming it marked an historic occasion. “We have paved the way! We have made history! This is the ideal situation where women can also carry a Torah and and read from it whenever they desire,” she stated.
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich had earlier called on the organizations to refrain from entering the women’s section and to pray instead at Robinson’s Arch, the non-segregated area located to the south of the main section of the Western Wall. He also called on the ultra-Orthodox public to not clash with them and not be dragged into the “provocation.”
After the prayer was held, Rabinovich released a statement expressing his “shock and pain,” saying that “Women of the Wall today hurt thousands of worshipers by
holding a demonstrative mixed-gender prayer inside the women’s section.”
Rabinovich said the activists also “desecrated the Torah scrolls by passing them on from hand to hand like a common object… and waved them like a protest banner.”
Michael Bachner/TPS contributed to this story