Let's share Western Wall rather than divide it
Op-ed: It’s time to stop fighting over the Western Wall and create ways to overcome division which cater for all sects. The holy site should be run by a public council including representatives of the relevant government ministries, public delegates representing male and female worshippers, and representatives of the Diaspora Jewry.
The Western Wall keeps making headlines, and it will keep making headlines. Both the ultra-Orthodox and the liberal movements in Israel and abroad have too much to gain from this juicy dispute to let it sink. Moreover, this is a religious quarrel, and religious quarrels among the Jewish people are traditionally waged fervently and intensely and last a long time. That’s the way we are. Both sides feel they are fighting for Judaism itself here, no less. The hope that this whole thing will just calm down by itself, therefore, is a false hope.
Meanwhile, the world’s leading newspapers are publishing pictures of Haredim attacking women, of police officers dragging women and detaining them for the crime of praying—pictures which increasingly make Israel resemble its neighbors in the Middle East. Not exactly a light unto the nations.
In religious language, it’s called defamation of God or shaming God's name; in secular language, it’s damage to Israel’s PR image. In either case, it’s bad. Bad for our relations with the world Jewry, but for the already tense relations between different groups in the Israeli society, bad for the way Judaism is perceived, bad for the way Israel is perceived. It’s bad.
It’s possible, although unlikely, that the High Court of Justice—in its capacity as the state’s responsible adult—will pull the government’s chestnuts out of the fire and impose some kind of solution. That’s not good either. Religious and public disputes can’t be decided in a legal manner. It’s neither the institution nor the nature of the required decision. These are ongoing disputes, with many nuances. A judicial decision, in its nature, is black and white. It’s unsuitable here.
So what should we do? The solution adopted, and then cancelled, by the government was an attempt to create “two plazas for two streams.” An attempt to slice, to divide, and to achieve peace and quiet. It didn’t work. Now that the government has backed down, we must return to the sketching table and come up with a solution that will allow us to share the Western Wall rather than divide it.
What we need is a system, a technique which will enable joint decision making for all interested parties in the Western Wall. Today, the Western Wall is run by a religious association led by the Western Wall rabbi. That’s an unreasonable and unjustified situation. The Western Wall isn’t just a synagogue (and it doesn’t matter what type of synagogue it is), it’s also a national site. It hosts national ceremonies, like Memorial Day and the swearing-in of IDF soldiers, family ceremonies, and more. As Judaism is both a religion and a nationality, as well as an identity, the Western Wall reflects this mishmash. Its management system should do the same.
The Knesset should enact a law determining that the Western Wall will be run by a public council, which will include representatives of the relevant government ministries, like the Tourism, Religious Affairs, Diaspora Affairs and Jerusalem Affairs ministries. It will also include Israeli public delegates, who will represent male and female worshippers at the Western Wall. And, equally important, representatives of the Diaspora Jewry. I suggest that the committee be led by the chairman of the Jewish Agency, a body which is in itself a partnership between the Israeli government and the Jewish people.
Such a body, which will be given authorities and a budget to run the place (which is Israel’s busiest tourist site), will be able to cater in a changing and flexible manner to the different needs of the diverse people “using” the Western Wall over different periods of time.
Fifty years after Jerusalem's reunification, it should connect us to each other through our joint past, for the sake of a joint future. It’s time to stop fighting over the Western Wall and to create ways to live in it together. Not to divide, but rather to share.
Tehila Friedman is the chairwoman of religious-Zionist movement Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah.