Tensions flare as anti-progressive Orthodox group prays at pluralist section of Western Wall

“The government of Israel is not implementing the Western Wall resolution and it’s left a vacuum for these groups to try and change the situation on the ground and take control of this site."

January 1, 2017 12:13
3 minute read.
Western Wall

An impromptu Orthodox prayer service at the pluralist section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.. (photo credit: YIZHAR HESS)


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A group of Orthodox worshipers associated with the hard-right Ateret Cohanim organization and other national-religious groups once again held a prayer service at the pluralist prayer section of the Western Wall Sunday morning, prompting criticism from the progressive Jewish denominations in Israel.

Some 30 or 40 worshipers turned up at the Robinson’s Arch prayer area, including women, and set up men’s and women’s prayer areas divided by a separation curtain.

A prayer service of the Masorti Movement was scheduled for 9 a.m. at the site, and the surprise Orthodox service somewhat delayed preparations for it, although on this occasion did not severely hamper the service.

Ateret Cohanim and its founder Mati Dan have in recent months been a significant element in the opposition to the implementation of the government resolution on the Western Wall to upgrade the pluralist prayer section and make it a government-recognized prayer site.

The Liba Center organization, which lobbies for preserving the Orthodox character of the public realm, was also involved in organizing Sunday’s prayer service.

The same national-religious groups also organized a prayer service at the Robinson’s Arch site last Wednesday which interfered with the schedule of the Masorti Movement for a series of bar and bat mitzvas.

Director of the Masorti Movement Yizhar Hess protested Sunday’s incident describing it as “a blatant provocation,” and arguing that the Orthodox prayer service contravened the customs of the site, which is designated for progressive prayer.

He also pointed out that the central Western Wall plaza has gender divided prayer sections and that there is no need for Orthodox groups to pray at the Robinson’s Arch site since they have ample facilities at the main plaza.

“The government of Israel is not implementing the Western Wall resolution and it’s left a vacuum for these groups to try and change the situation on the ground and take control of this site,” said Hess.

Ateret Cohanim along with other groups and activists, including Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, head of the Temple Institute, have staged several prayer services at the site in recent months in protest of the government resolution.

Hess also said that he would “not be surprised” if Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of Bayit Yehudi was involved in coordinating aspects of these protest services.

Ariel’s office declined to respond to the allegation.

Yehudah Vald, a spokesman for the Liba Center told The Jerusalem Post that his organization, together with Ateret Cohanim and others, has begun praying at the southern section of the Western Wall in protest of the government resolution.

Vald said that the organizations in question view the Western Wall agreement as giving legitimacy to the progressive Jewish movements in Israel and that their prayer services are designed to assert that only Orthodox prayer and customs are acceptable at the site.

“We will not give them this legitimacy; they have invented a new religion, it’s not Judaism and we will not give them this recognition,” said Vald.

“Our prayer services declare that the Western Wall is holy along its entire length, that it belongs to the entire Jewish people, not just the Reform movement, and that we will not allow some new groups to pray however they want. We have traditions for thousands of years and payers should be conducted at the Western Wall in accordance with those traditions,” he added.

The Masorti Movement frequently holds bar and bat mitzva ceremonies at the Robinson’s Arch prayer area on days when the Torah is read, including Mondays and Thursdays of regular weeks, the new Hebrew month and holidays such as Hanukka.

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