MK Mossi Raz calls for review of Western Wall management

Meretz MK Mossi Raz has submitted a motion to the agenda in the Knesset to review the management of the Western Wall after a report highlighted problems with Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz's administration.

 WOMEN OF THE WALL hold a prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem as hundreds of ultra-Orthodox women protest (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
WOMEN OF THE WALL hold a prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem as hundreds of ultra-Orthodox women protest
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

Meretz MK Mossi Raz has submitted a motion to the agenda in the Knesset to review the management of the Western Wall complex following an in-depth report in The Marker into problematic aspects of how the holy site is run by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.

Raz said that the publication, and others, raised “significant concerns” about the “judgment and involvement of external interests of senior officials” running the site, a veiled reference to Rabinowitz, who has served as the government-appointed administrator of the site for some 20 years, and as chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, a government body that is responsible for administering the complex.

The Marker report highlighted how, on the initiative of Rabinowitz, privileged access to synagogues and public spaces inside the Western Wall tunnels is given to wealthy donors to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation for family celebrations, while members of the general public need to pay some NIS 100,000 for similar access.

These spaces are highly regarded due to their proximity to the site on the Temple Mount where the holy of holies was located within the Jewish temples of antiquity.

The report also noted Rabinowitz’s connections to wealthy businessmen and possible conflicts of interest that have arisen as a result of those connections.

The rabbi has also worked to stymie the access of the Women of the Wall prayer rights group since entering office, and has routinely put obstacles in the group’s path, such as banning worshipers from bringing their own Torah scrolls to the site, thereby preventing the group from reading from the Torah during their monthly services.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in response to the report that all money collected from donations for access to special parts of the Western Wall complex and the tunnels were directed into the organization's accounts and used only for the maintenance and development of the site.

It also said that preferential access is given to others, including Holocaust survivors, students, and groups of IDF soldiers.

“Recent reports about the rabbi of the Western Wall should anger us all,” said Raz.

“It is unthinkable that a person who holds so much power uses it for external interests and acts in a disgraceful manner with aggressive and harmful behavior to freedom of worship and pluralism,” he added.

Although a cabinet decision of 2015 restricted the length of services for public officials, similar to that of Western Wall administrators, to six years, that decision does not apply retroactively, meaning Rabinowitz has his position as administrator for life.

The religious services minister could theoretically change the regulations over the tenure of the administrator, although it would need the approval of the justice minister, currently Gideon Sa’ar – whose wedding ceremony was conducted by Rabinowitz – and would regardless be politically problematic.

Rabinowitz could be replaced as chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation by its board, composed largely of public officials or representatives, although this would also be politically difficult.

Rakefet Ginsburg, director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel called for Rabinowitz to be dismissed, saying that the tenure of all other public officials, including the chief rabbi, are time-limited.

Moshe Gafni, chairman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party, said, however, that he had called Rabinowitz to give him his support against “the repeated attacks of the Conservatives, Reform and Women of the Wall.”

Meretz MK Mossi Raz has submitted a motion to the agenda in the Knesset to review the management of the Western Wall complex following an in-depth report in The Marker into problematic aspects of how the holy site is run by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.

Raz said that the publication, and others, raised “significant concerns” about the “judgment and involvement of external interests of senior officials” running the site, a veiled reference to Rabinowitz, who has served as the government-appointed administrator of the site for some 20 years, and as chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, a government body that is responsible for administering the complex.

The Marker report highlighted how, on the initiative of Rabinowitz, privileged access to synagogues and public spaces inside the Western Wall tunnels is given to wealthy donors to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation for family celebrations, while members of the general public need to pay some NIS 100,000 for similar access.

These spaces are highly regarded due to their proximity to the site on the Temple Mount where the holy of holies was located within the Jewish temples of antiquity.

The report also noted Rabinowitz’s connections to wealthy businessmen and possible conflicts of interest that have arisen as a result of those connections.

Meretz MKs Michal Rozin and Mossi Raz on a tour of West Bank outposts on Thursday with Peace Now (credit: PEACE NOW)Meretz MKs Michal Rozin and Mossi Raz on a tour of West Bank outposts on Thursday with Peace Now (credit: PEACE NOW)

The rabbi has also worked to stymie the access of the Women of the Wall prayer rights group since entering office, and has routinely put obstacles in the group’s path, such as banning worshipers from bringing their own Torah scrolls to the site, thereby preventing the group from reading from the Torah during their monthly services.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in response to the report that all money collected from donations for access to special parts of the Western Wall complex and the tunnels were directed into the organization's accounts and used only for the maintenance and development of the site.

It also said that preferential access is given to others, including Holocaust survivors, students, and groups of IDF soldiers.

“Recent reports about the rabbi of the Western Wall should anger us all,” said Raz.

“It is unthinkable that a person who holds so much power uses it for external interests and acts in a disgraceful manner with aggressive and harmful behavior to freedom of worship and pluralism,” he added.

Although a cabinet decision of 2015 restricted the length of services for public officials, similar to that of Western Wall administrators, to six years, that decision does not apply retroactively, meaning Rabinowitz has his position as administrator for life.

The religious services minister could theoretically change the regulations over the tenure of the administrator, although it would need the approval of the justice minister, currently Gideon Sa’ar – whose wedding ceremony was conducted by Rabinowitz – and would regardless be politically problematic.

Rabinowitz could be replaced as chairman of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation by its board, composed largely of public officials or representatives, although this would also be politically difficult.

Rakefet Ginsburg, director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel called for Rabinowitz to be dismissed, saying that the tenure of all other public officials, including the chief rabbi, is time-limited.

MK Moshe Gafni, chairman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party, said, however, that he had called Rabinowitz to give him his support against “the repeated attacks of the Conservatives, Reform and Women of the Wall.”