Convicted sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland was allowed to enter the Western Wall plaza with his car, an honor normally reserved only to the greatest of rabbis.
During the intermediate days of Passover, when the Western Wall is particularly crowded with worshipers, the rabbi was driven all the way to the Kotel, with his followers accompanying him, singing and running alongside the vehicle.
Berland, who led the Shuvu Bonim yeshiva of the Breslov Hasidic group, was convicted of committing sexual attacks on two women in his community and instructing followers to assault the husband of one of the women. He confessed to the crimes and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but he was released and put on house arrest over claims of failing health.
In recent years, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation has allowed prominent rabbis to enter the Kotel plaza with their vehicles and be driven all the way to the wall. The rabbis arrive in expensive vehicles, accompanied by followers who surround them and sing for them.
Among the rabbis who were given this honor were Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, both over 90 years old.
The head of the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism, Dr. Yizhar Hess, accused the Western Wall rabbi of "completely losing all shame."
"This time, he arranged for the sex offender Rabbi Berland to have a rebbe's entrance with a vehicle all the way to the Western Wall plaza," Hess said. "Meanwhile, he's persecuting the Women of the Wall."
He called for a clear policy about allowing entry to vehicle to the Western Wall plaza. "This is a national heritage site, not Rabbi (Shmuel) Rabinovitch's Vatican. Ferrari cars, shiny sealed partition on the women's side, and now Rabbi Berland," he lamented.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in response, "The entry of Rabbi Kanievsky was coordinated in advance and authorized by the police in light of the amount of followers that arrived and to keep the public order. This was done in line with procedures and with advanced coordination.
"However, Rabbi Berland's entrance to the plaza was done against procedures, while endangering others, after his driver made a law unto himself and necessitated the police to get involved.
"In light of Rabbi Berland's age and medical condition, he was alowed entrance to the parking area only ... The matter will be handled by police and a message was sent to his aide that Rabbi Berland's vehicle will no longer be allowed entrance."