Natan Sharansky 311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Let me begin by making it clear that Natan Sharansky is to be applauded for his
effort to make the Western Wall area known as Robinson’s Arch available for
mixed minyanim, on a 24-hour basis. Furthermore, let me state unequivocally that
the Masorti Movement has always supported the demands of the Women of the Wall
that they be permitted to pray in the women’s section with tallit and tefillin
and read from the Torah. Having said that, it is important that it be understood
that these are two very different matters, and that even if WOW should decide
that it is not interested in the expanded Western Wall, that area should be made
available to all groups for nonsegregated prayer.
A bit of history: The
use of Robinson’s Arch for prayer was offered to the Masorti Movement many years
ago as a result of the fact that the mixed minyanim we had conducted at the
plaza area for many years were being prohibited by the police because of haredi
violence against them. After prolonged negotiations, we of the Masorti Movement
accepted this offer with the proviso that it be understood that we did not
thereby give up our legal rights to pray in mixed minyanim in the Kotel
Later WOW were also given an area to use at Robinson’s Arch, which
they have used only under protest because they want – and rightly so – to pray
in the Women’s Section according to their practice. The wearing of tefillin and
tallitot is mentioned and permitted in rabbinic writings, even if not required
or common practice.
Women's minyanim and Torah readings take place in
Orthodox congregations in Israel and America such as Shira Hadasaha and have
been endorsed by various Orthodox authorities.
IT IS bad enough that the
Wall was turned into an Orthodox synagogue without also turning it into a haredi
one! It should have remained a free and open area as it always was, with no
permanent mechitza (partition), but that was not to be.
beginning, the use of Robinson’s Arch was problematic because of the time
restrictions placed upon its use. For years we fought to expand the time
available with very little success. Sharansky’s promise that it will now be made
available constantly for mixed groups is a wonderful step forward and should be
embraced by the government and implemented at once.
It must also be
cautioned that the area is a magnificent archeological site and that whatever
plan is adopted must respect that and must not take away from the experience of
seeing the full height of the wall beginning at the street level, something that
is not to be found at the current Kotel, as well as being able to see the stones
from the top of the Wall that are now in a pile where they landed when the
Romans toppled them in 70 CE. Some changes need to be made to accommodate
worshipers, but the less the site is disturbed, the better.
also be emphasized that the Robinson’s Arch area is every bit as much a remnant
of the so-called Western Wall as is the current Kotel.
In order to keep
things in proportion, we should remember that the Wall is not a part of the
Temple itself but the retaining wall that Herod erected in order to expand the
area upon which he could erect his grandiose new Temple.
Nor it is the
only area of that wall that remained after the destruction.
There is also
the Southern Wall and areas of the Eastern Wall as well. All are of equal
importance and equal antiquity.
The Western Wall that is referred to in
rabbinic sources as remaining after the destruction was an actual wall of the
Temple on the Temple Mount which the Romans left deliberately to demonstrate the
size and importance of the structure they had been able to destroy. They later
destroyed that as well and replaced it with a pagan temple.
that now remain do not have the sanctity that is applied to the Temple itself.
Their holiness lies in the fact that for centuries this was the only spot
associated with the Temple where Jews could pray and it served and still serves
as a connecting link with our tradition going back at least as far as David and,
according to tradition, even to Abraham.
Superstitions associated with
the Wall, however, should not be extended to the new area being made
For example A.M. Lunz, who wrote many books about Jerusalem at
the beginning of the past century, stated, “Recently it has become the custom
for people to write their names and requests on pieces of paper which they place
in cracks between the stones. The Rabbis...should strictly forbid this
superstitious custom and proclaim in all the synagogues the severity of the
prohibition, for this is a serious sin against the holiness of the place.”
Perhaps we can at least keep this practice from spreading further.
to be hoped that under Mr. Sharansky’s guidance an appropriate and respectful
place will be found for all Jews to worship freely near the Temple Mount without
interference from extremist elements, thus returning an important part of our
heritage to the rightful use of the Jewish People.The author is a former
president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, and was one of those who
negotiated the use of Robinson’s Arch with the government. The opinions
expressed here are his own. He is the author of The Jerusalem Anthology