JERUSALEM – The Western Wall is not Orthodox just as it is not Reform, the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, said.
“The Western Wall is the place of prayer for every individual in the nation, and as such, it must carefully safeguard the individual’s right to privacy and respect during the precious moments of prayer. The secret of the Western Wall is the secret of diminution, which demands that each one of us minimize the traditions in which we differ and focus on what is common and which unifies us,” Rabinowitz said in a statement released Nov. 1.
The statement came in response to the arrest last month of Anat Hoffman for leading more than 200 women in the Shema prayer in the back of the women’s section at the Western Wall. Jewish groups have called for a police investigation into the arrest and changes in the decision-making process on policies at the holy site to include non-Orthodox Jews.
Rabbi Rabinowitz decried the incident, saying: “The prayer of thousands of people who came to the Western Wall from afar was disturbed by illegal demonstrations, provocation, and arrests that were meant as a show for the media.”
He added that “the organization of the Women of the Wall and the entire Reform movement are the only Jewish stream who received from the State of Israel its own private area for prayers at the Western Wall, at an investment of $2 million of taxpayers’ money. All the other streams and sub-streams in the Jewish nation crowd together in the Western Wall Plaza in peace and brotherhood, with mutual respect, and not one of them complains ‘this place is too small.’
“This is the one place, perhaps the last, where we are all united as Jews. It would be terrible if here too we emphasize the differences among us. As the rabbi of the Western Wall, it is my job and my obligation to make sure this does not happen,” the rabbi wrote.
Meanwhile, in related news, a Jewish Agency committee adopted a resolution last week calling for a “satisfactory approach” to prayer at the Western Wall. The resolution, passed Oct. 30 during the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Board of Governors meeting in Tel Aviv, reads in part: “Whereas Jewish women and men, of all streams of Judaism, desire the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall of Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) in a manner that fulfils their religious expression, and in an atmosphere of mutual respect and Ahavat Yisrael” and calls for “the Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel, consulting with the Committee for the Unity of the Jewish People, and working with Jewish Agency-Israel Government Co-ordinating Committee and other appropriate bodies, including the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, to arrive at a satisfactory approach to the issue of prayer at the Western Wall of Har Habayit.”
The Reform movement has called for an Israeli police investigation into the incident in which Hoffman said she was put in shackles, dragged across a jail floor and put into a cell overnight without a blanket, being forced to use her tallit to cover herself.
In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that women cannot wear a tallit or tefillin or chant from a Torah at the Western Wall.