MK Kariv takes Torah scroll into Western Wall plaza causing stir

Labor MK uses parliamentary immunity to defy regulations at holy site, leading to intense opposition from Orthodox protestors.

MK Kariv reads Torah scroll at Western Wall plaza  (photo credit: WOMEN OF THE WALL)
MK Kariv reads Torah scroll at Western Wall plaza
(photo credit: WOMEN OF THE WALL)
Labor MK and Reform leader Rabbi Gilad Kariv brought a Torah scroll to the Western Wall plaza on Tuesday morning in defiance of the site’s regulations.
It was used in a Rosh Hodesh prayer service by the Women of the Wall, a feminist organization whose members want to pray at the Western Wall with Torah scrolls and while wearing tallitot and tefillin.
Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and right-wing MKs filed a complaint with the Knesset Ethics Committee against Kariv.
Regulations at the Western Wall prohibit bringing in Torah scrolls to the site. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites, has banned the Women of the Wall from using Torah scrolls available for male prayer groups.
As an MK, Kariv was able to bring a small Torah scroll for the Rosh Hodesh prayer service without Western Wall Heritage Foundation security personnel being able to prevent his entry or confiscate it due to his parliamentary immunity.
MK Kariv takes Torah scroll into Western Wall plaza (Women of the Wall)MK Kariv takes Torah scroll into Western Wall plaza (Women of the Wall)
The group prayed in the upper plaza of the central Western Wall site and used the Torah scroll to read the Torah portion for Rosh Hodesh.
According to Women of the Wall, their prayer service and Kariv’s presence with a Torah scroll was met with violence and harassment by haredi and religious-Zionist protesters.
“Together with Women of the Wall, and with the support of the majority of Israeli society and millions of Jews around the world, we will continue to fight for the right of all denominations and congregations within the Jewish people to pray in accordance with their custom at the Western Wall,” Kariv said.
He said he was proud to use his parliamentary immunity to bring a Torah scroll to the site, adding that he was “embarrassed that government authorities in Israel try to confiscate Torah scrolls and prevent women from praying and reading Torah in accordance with their custom.”
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which manages the site, said it was “saddened by MK Gilad Kariv cynically taking advantage of his immunity by coming to the Western Wall holding a Torah scroll that he tried to bring in to the complex, contrary to the directions of the legal adviser to the government and the site’s regulations.”
“Despite knowing that such an event will disrupt public order at this very sensitive place, and despite knowing this action is in contrast with Western Wall regulations, including a letter he was given in the name of the Justice Ministry regarding his prohibited behavior, he ignored it and unfortunately proceeded with his provocative actions.
“By doing so, the MK reverted to the disruptions at the Western Wall that had quieted over this past year due to attempts by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to foster unity at the Western Wall, in general, and during Rosh Hodesh prayers, in particular.”
Haredi and right-wing MKs criticized Kariv, including United Torah Judaism chairman Moshe Gafni, Housing and Construction Minister Ya’acov Litzman (UTJ), UTJ MKs Yakov Asher and Yitzhak Pindrus and MKs from Shas.
“Gilad Kariv is known as a troublemaker, and now he is bringing the Knesset down to the abyss by abusing his immunity to harm the Jewish people around the world,” said Gafni, who filed a complaint against Kariv with the Knesset Ethics Committee.
Shas accused Kariv of “violating the regulations of the attorney-general.”
The Attorney-General’s Office had sent a legal opinion to Rabinowitz, who requested it in anticipation that Kariv would seek to bring a Torah scroll to the site once elected.
The Attorney-General’s Office wrote in its legal opinion of April 12 that an MK may bring a Torah scroll to the Western Wall Plaza and not be searched or have it confiscated due to his or her parliamentary immunity.
However, the Torah scroll could not be passed to anyone else at the site, since they do not have parliamentary immunity, the Attorney-General’s Office wrote.
Kariv brought the Torah scroll “just to cause a provocation at the Western Wall,” Shas said.
“Kariv and his group have no connection to the Western Wall,” it said. “They do not believe in the Temple, but they just want to cause a provocation and divide the nation.”
Yochi Rappeport, executive director of Women of the Wall, said the group’s success in reading from the Torah on the eve of Independence Day “is a victory for tolerance and sanity over extremism, incitement and discrimination.” The group would continue to pray at the Western Wall every month and “fight for the prayer rights of all Jews,” she said.
The Women of the Wall and the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements in Israel have fought a decades-long battle for prayer rights and access for their prayer services at the site.
These organizations agreed to a compromise with the haredi parties in 2016, whereby the southern section of the Western Wall would be upgraded and recognized as an official holy site for progressive Jewish prayer by the government, in return for which they would waive their prayer rights at the central Western Wall plaza.
The haredi parties backtracked however and forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to indefinitely suspend the agreement in 2017.
A petition to the High Court of Justice demanding that the government implement the 2016 agreement, as well as a petition demanding that the regulations banning the use of external Torah scrolls at the site be annulled, are pending before the court.