Another shot has been fired by the haredim as they move forward to repeal the government‘s negotiated and approved but never implemented Kotel agreement. But unlike the shot fired at the North Bridge in Lexington that harkened justice and freedom for the American colonists, this shot only offers more misogynist discrimination against women and any Jew who does not share their increasingly narrower view of Judaism.
Last month I wrote about MK David Amsalem’s bill to apply the law regarding Holy places to the entire Kotel area; including the southern wall that has been used as an egalitarian prayer space since 2000 and is slated to become the new pluralistic third section of the Kotel. It was believed at the time that this bill would never progress.
On the legal front regarding the September Supreme Court petition by Women of the Wall and the liberal movements to implement the plan or divide the existing plaza into three sections, the Supreme Court allowed the government several extensions to find a solution acceptable to the haredim political parties. During this additional time, no government officials ever asked to speak to WoW or the liberal movements.
Now the haredi parties are demanding that the government resolution, be repealed outright and that the status quo; i.e. their interpretation of what they want to status quo to be at any given time; to remain at the Kotel with a few bread crumbs thrown to soften their first demand. Now liberal Jews can continue to pray at the southern wall albeit without any separate management authority (one of the key features of the negotiated plan) or a joint entrance that would allow visitors to the Kotel a choice in how they want to worship.
According to Haaretz, the government is expected to kowtow to the haredi demands and will notify the Supreme Court on Sunday (the deadline of this last extension) of its now official decision to suspend the implementation of the Kotel plan.
In a more bizarre twist to this entire sordid affair, the chief rabbi’s assistant sent a letter to Harel Goldberg, the legal advisor of the chief rabbinate saying that the issue of the Kotel is not justiciable; it is a religious issue and that the court does not have the authority to hear it. He claims that the chief rabbinate has authority over all the Kotel and further claims that the ceremonies of the Reform movement violate the rights of the public, and claims that WoW does not go to the Kotel to pray but only to advance feminism and to “cause rioting.”
The agenda of the haredi MKs and the chief rabbi is to go back in time before the government plan, before the Sobel decision and before the court cases in the late 1990’s that allowed liberal prayer at the Southern wall.
The reactions to these hostile attacks was immediate. MK Rachel Azaria was highly critical saying that it would cause severe harm to Israel’s relationship with the US in a time when we rely on US support against BDS, on campuses, in the UN and as a strategic military partner.
Women of the Wall expressed outrage that the government would renege on the Kotel plan: “Following three years of negotiations with all involved parties (including the haredi parties and the rabbinate who were updated regularly by the Kotel administrator) reaching an agreement accepted by all, it is shameful that the government is even considering the possibility of backing out of its decision made on January 31, 2016, confirmed by 15-to-5 votes. In submitting to the will of the haredi parties, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is sacrificing women’s rights to pray as they wish, be it egalitarian or traditional prayers.”
Similar sentiment was expressed by Rabbi Andrew Sachs, the director of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel. He said that Masorti representatives were in the Knesset hearings on Monday and, “It was the most raucous hearing I have ever attended.” Sachs explained that the rabbinate doesn’t feel that their position is being adequately presented by the government and wants to have their lawyers argue before the court.
Sachs said that the haredim don’t really want to daven at the Southern Wall as much as they don’t want the government to recognize the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism by making agreements with them.
The haredi leadership is beginning to lose control over its flock with the advent of smart phones, more haredim entering the work force and serving in the IDF. This is their way of pushing back but they cannot turn back the tide any more than they can stop the growth in numbers of Israelis who support mixed prayer at the Kotel, civil marriage and opening conversions up to alternative Orthodox groups as well as by the Masorti and Reform movements. The shot heard around the world may be the beginning of the death rattles of haredi control of religious life in Israel. In the meantime, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.