Likud MK joins legislative fight against Reform, Conservative Jews

The MK’s bill says that there is a need to define the prayer areas of the Western Wall, the authority to conduct prayer services and to “prevent offending the sensitivities of the worshippers."

March 21, 2017 18:12
2 minute read.
Western Wall

Western Wall. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Likud MK David Amsalem has joined the fight of haredi lawmakers against the Reform and Conservative movements, as well as the Women of the Wall organization, by advancing a bill that would ban non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall, including the Robinson’s Arch area at its southern end.

Amsalem’s bill joins Shas legislation in an effort to circumvent the Western Wall resolution, approved by the government last year but yet to be implemented, to create a government-recognized area for progressive Jewish prayer at the southern end of the Western Wall.

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The bill says that there is a need to define in law the prayer areas of the Western Wall, the authority to conduct prayer services and to “prevent offending the sensitivities of the worshipers.”

The bill defines the Western Wall as the western wall of the Temple Mount “for its entire length and the plazas adjacent to it for a distance of 50 meters,” which would include Robinson’s Arch.

It would also give authority over “prayer services and the holiness of the site” at the Western Wall to the administrator of the site, to be appointed by the religious services minister and the chief rabbis, too.
Violent fracas breaks out at Western Wall over Women of the Wall (Danny Shabtai 0303) (file)

The legislation also states that the customs incumbent at the Western Wall will be “as is accepted in synagogues in which Torah law is customary and which the Council of the Chief Rabbinate applies.”

These clauses would outlaw both progressive Jewish prayer at the Robinson’s Arch area and the prayer services of the Women of the Wall at the women’s section of the Western Wall.

Unlike the Shas bill, however, Amsalem’s bill would not criminalize such prayer services.

“The Western Wall bill I submitted states that the present situation [at the site] will remain in place,” Amsalem tweeted on Monday night.

“Reform is something you do in a canning factory not in the Jewish religion,” he added, referring to the Reform movement.

Contrary to the MK’s suggestion in his tweet, however, his bill would in fact change the current situation because it would reverse the rulings of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court and the Jerusalem District Court from 2013 that Women of the Wall may conduct their prayer services in the women’s section of the main plaza in accordance with their own customs, such as wearing prayer shawls and tefillin.

The Chief Rabbinate would likely ban such services – a ban which could be enforced by the administrator of the site under the terms of the legislation.

Amsalem’s bill would also outlaw progressive prayer at the current progressive prayer area at the southern end of the Western Wall, where Conservative and Reform services take place regularly and have done so since 2000.

A similar bill advanced by the Shas party earlier this year has floundered, likely owing to opposition from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because of the serious damage it could do to relations with Diaspora Jewry, and has yet to be presented to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for passage to the Knesset.

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