Praying at the Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Anyone attending a mixed-gender prayer service at Robinson’s Arch of the Western Wall could be sentenced to six months in jail, if a bill to establish Orthodoxy as the only recognized religion at Judaism’s holiest site, proposed by Shas, should become law.
Not only would common practice among millions of Diaspora Jewry be banned, but within the existing women’s section, there shall be not be allowed “any ceremony that includes taking out a Torah scroll, reading from it, blowing a shofar, wearing a tallit or tefillin.”
The bill would in effect make the Western Wall an Orthodox synagogue – by law.
Lawmakers from two haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, as well as the Likud’s Oren Hazan, David Amsalem and Miki Zohar and Bayit Yehudi’s Bezalel Smotrich, Moti Yogev and Nissan Slomiansky, have endorsed the far-reaching proposal, which would make Orthodoxy the law throughout the entire Western Wall area.
The bill would also reverse the cabinet’s decision to provide an area for egalitarian worship at Robinson’s Arch, where it pledged to build a prayer plaza for Reform and Conservative Jews. Its construction has been frozen since it was announced in January to great acclaim, due to coalition threats by the haredi political parties.
The bill is part of a crusade against the Reform Movement being led by Interior Minister Arye Deri.
As he told reporters: “You must know that any recognition or compromise with the Reform means a recognition of their way as a ‘stream in Judaism.’ Our struggle against them is uncompromising. They bring assimilation and destruction.”
In other words, in the Israeli version of democracy, a minister in the government of the Jewish state may promote a law discriminating against the religious practices of the great majority of American Jewry.
That such an absurd proposal could be taken seriously, and be supported by so many right-wing politicians as well as ultra-Orthodox ministers, is a sign of how religious extremism is growing at a dangerous pace in our country.
The Shas bill would make it official that Israel’s democracy is also a theocracy. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky thinks it could put Israel on the same level as Iran: “If it passes,” he told The Jerusalem Post,
“it means that Israel will become the first Western country where a woman who wears a tallit will be punished and sent to six months in jail.”
“This bill makes a mockery of all the efforts made by recent governments to ensure that the Western Wall is a place that unites, rather than divides, the Jewish people,” said Sharansky, who negotiated the Robinson’s Arch compromise, in a statement.
“This bill’s passage would have grave consequences for the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. Based on the prime minister’s strong personal commitment to strengthening the Israel-Diaspora relationship, it is my fervent hope that this damaging bill will be summarily dismissed by a majority of the coalition and of the Knesset.”
There were at least two Knesset members to sound the alarm at this manifestation of Jewish extremism, Michael Oren and Rachel Azaria of Kulanu. “This bill is a mortal blow for relations between the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world,” they said in a joint statement.
“Many people speak about Reform Jews the way antisemites speak about the Elders of Zion,” Sharansky told the Post. “I found that there are unbelievable prejudices against Reform Jews. If Israeli leaders from the prime minister on down will not start trying to de-demonize our own people, then we will have a big problem.”
The big problem – one of Israel’s biggest – is the death grip in which the state holds the practice of Judaism. Israel cannot be the only democracy in the Middle East or a true democracy as long as its citizens lack the freedom to worship as they please. The Shas bill, which we hope will not pass into law, is a warning signal that the time has come to separate religion and state, for the sake of both.