Egalitarian prayer comes to Bayit Yehudi?

MKs Smotrich and Moalem sing ‘slichot’ together in ancient Jericho synagogue.

MKS SHULI MOALEM-REFAELI (center) and Bezalel Smotrich (second right) recite ‘slichot’ yesterday at the Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho (photo credit: TWITTER)
MKS SHULI MOALEM-REFAELI (center) and Bezalel Smotrich (second right) recite ‘slichot’ yesterday at the Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho
(photo credit: TWITTER)
MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of Bayit Yehudi are among the most vocal defenders of traditional Jewish values and religious norms in Israel today, strongly advocating for the preservation of Orthodox authority over religious life.
It was therefore a surprise when footage emerged of the lawmakers devotedly singing slichot, prayers of repentance – which are said ahead of Rosh Hashana and the lead-up to Yom Kippur – together in a synagogue on Monday.
And the footage has also proved slightly awkward for the MKs, with Smotrich protesting that it was not slichot but rather “songs” being sung in the synagogue, while Moalem has yet to comment despite several requests.
On Sunday, MKs from the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus visited the Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho, which dates to the sixth or seventh century CE, and its unique mosaic, and received briefings on the situation in the Jordan Valley.
In video footage published by Arutz Sheva, men and women on the tour, including Smotrich and Moalem who were side by side, as well as MKs Sharren Haskel, Yoav Kisch, Yehudah Glick and Amir Ohana, can be seen and heard chanting at least two slichot and reading from slichot prayer books.
Moalem in particular can be seen closing her eyes in concentration, while Smotrich swayed as he sang the slichot next to her.
Noting the unusual sight of Orthodox MKs praying in a mixed group, progressive Jewish leaders in Israel wryly welcomed the development and the new unity to the Jewish people it heralded.
“Welcome, MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Shuli Moalem, how did it feel to pray in a group of friends without a [gender separation] barrier,” quipped Yizhar Hess, director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. “Natural, no? Also comfortable, admit it. It appears to me, and correct me if I’m wrong, Bezalel, that you didn’t come to be frivolous and you didn’t have sinful thoughts when you stood next to Shuli and you lifted up prayer to He who sits on high.
“This is how millions of Jews around the world and hundreds of thousands in Israel pray. Men and women together. So in the spirit of the month of Elul, we hope that you merit more prayer services like this, for you and for your partners and for Jewish unity!”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel, also picked up on the unconventional scene, but said that it was ironic that Smotrich and Moalem were in Jericho to assert Jewish rights to dwell and pray there while saying slichot together while denying the rights of progressive Jews to pray in mixed-gender services at the Western Wall.
“It is difficult to understand how they ignore our rights to pray at the Western Wall, and that when it comes to Reform and Conservative Jews, the idea of standing shoulder to shoulder and praying together is seen by them as a disgrace,” he said. “These images prove that there is a lot of hypocrisy in the positions of the National Union [a constituent of the Bayit Yehudi Knesset faction] and of MK Smotrich and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, which has nothing to do with theology and religious standards but rather is about protecting the monopoly of the Orthodox establishment. These images are wonderful, compelling proof of this hypocrisy.”
Smotrich denied that the group had been saying slichot and said they had instead been singing “Sephardi liturgical poems.”
“This was a tour in the Jordan Valley,” the MK wrote on Twitter. “After a lengthy and interesting explanation of the mosaic, someone began a liturgical poem from the Sephardi slichot and we all joined in happily. Look for more interesting news.”