The prime minister has announced that Natan Sharansky will lead a process
intended to bring about a compromise between the Orthodox, Conservative and
Reform streams. I greet this news with optimism.
Sharansky, a Jewish
hero, has shown great wisdom regarding countless challenges facing our
He and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are to be praised and
thanked for the commencement of this process to preserve the peace and sanctity
of the Kotel
, which has inspired loyalty, commitment and connection in Jews
around the world to the land of Israel for thousands of years.
compromises Sharansky will need to achieve to bring peace and cooperation to
that holy site will not be easy, so we must consider a broad road map as far as
which issues need to be addressed and how. Judaism, like many of the great
wisdom traditions, struggles with whether conflict is to be resolved or managed.
Over time, the direction of Judaism has been toward the management of
The emergence of this trend reflects our tradition’s interest
in preserving differing points of view; as well as the Jewish people’s history
of internal conflict. Most significantly, this trend reflects our legal
tradition’s preference for p’shara
(compromise) over din
recognition that compromises encompass multiple truths and thus require each
side to give.
A RECOGNITION of the inevitability of different approaches
to Jewish observances is found in Iggrot Moshe, the commentary of Rabbi Moshe
Feinstein, “Because it is almost impossible for everyone to be of the same
approach and the same opinion,...we may consider there will be disputes in how
to fulfill Torah laws, and there will be separate groupings, each great rabbi
and his students, as we witness throughout the Talmud that in almost all the
Torah’s laws there are a number of disputes of the Sages, and so shall it be in
(Orach Haim 4:25) Those who do not accept egalitarian Jewish
worship undoubtedly will have an avalanche of reasons why Rabbi Feinstein’s
explanation doesn’t apply to Conservative and Reform Jews. To them, I would say,
“We have received your memo. Now we need to find a way to live
Under the skilled and steady direction of Sharansky, we ought
to look not for “resolution” but for areas in which this conflict can be managed
and in which each party stands aside and permits the Jewish strivings of the
other to carry on, even without explicit recognition.
In the discourse of
religion and state, such a tacit “standing aside” falls under the rubric of
“state.” Our Orthodox brethren do not recognize our worship as religiously
legitimate or in the best interests of the Jewish people. Indeed, we launch the
same criticism against their rejection of us – we find their rejection of our
legitimacy not religiously legitimate and not in the best interests of the
The goals we set for this process ought not to be to
resolve this fundamental tension, but to manage it.
FOLLOWING THE Supreme
Court decision of 2003, the Masorti movement undertook to maintain the area at
Robinson’s Arch at its own expense (all operations of the historic Kotel are, of
course, government-funded) to create the most inspiring and hospitable
egalitarian worship environment in the hours and with the discomforts that the
Notwithstanding those obstacles, that 800 groups
totaling over 20,000 people come there every year speaks to the hunger for such
At the same time as we have operated within the bounds of the
law and contributed to Israeli society and world Jewry at Robinson’s Arch, we
hold that the supreme court decision is not just and that instead, we ought to
be able to conduct public gender-egalitarian prayer at the Kotel. Robinson’s
Arch has provided a historically moving and religiously meaningful place near
the Kotel for worship, but it is not the Kotel.
There is one worldwide
Jewish people, that people has one eternal national homeland in the State of
Israel, and there is one Kotel. We wish to stand before it and be
Herzl proposed that a Jewish settlement be established in Uganda
as an interim measure to relieve the suffering of European pogroms. That idea
was ultimately rejected. Even under such dire circumstances, fundamental to
Zionism is an abiding recognition that the unbroken historical connection of the
Jewish people to its sacred land and history cannot be addressed by
LEADERS OF the Reform movement have previously proposed a
three-part division of the space: men, women and egalitarian. Such a division
might be possible on the Kotel plaza. The sections could be separated by a
mechitza (the Orthodox standard for separation during prayer) and, as a
practical matter, the women’s section would need to go in the middle, as a
managed compromise would find a way to separate the egalitarian from the
Another way to approach the matter, however,
might not be a compromise of space, but one of time.
Under such a plan, a
schedule would put egalitarian and non-egalitarian worshipers at the Kotel at
entirely different times. Perhaps Robinson’s Arch would become the place for
Orthodox worshipers at times when the Kotel is designated for legal use by the
rest of the Jewish community.
Perhaps in this way, the Jewish people in
our shared homeland can find a way to tolerate one another’s worship, mipnei
darkhei shalom – for the sake of peace. The Talmud, in Tractate Sanhedrin,
guides that Jewish courts ought to actively seek compromise over issuing a
We trust that this enduring wisdom will also guide Natan
Sharansky in his recommendations. No one will be 100 percent satisfied, but
compromise is viewed by our tradition as more just and more reflective of our
sacred relationships to God, Torah, Israel and one another. When an agreement is
reached, a compromise it shall be.The author, a rabbi, is executive vice
president of the Rabbinical Assembly.
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