February 17, 2019

A Progressive Case for the Status Quo at the Kotel

“The deal would have awarded Robinson’s Arch, the archaeological site on the southern end of the Western Wall, officially to the Reform and Conservative movements as an egalitarian prayer site. Although the site has served as such for decades, the deal would have changed the status of the place officially and awarded the progressive religious movements state funding for its operation. Effectively, this would have given them the official recognition they have long sought, and against which the haredi establishment has fought tooth and nail.

Indeed, to that establishment, very much including the rabbi appointed to administer the Kotel, these movements are “works of Satan.” Why, then, would this establishment ever have agreed to the deal?

The answer is: because, in exchange for changing the status of Robinson’s Arch, making it a synagogue under progressive Jewish auspices, the status of the Kotel was also to change. Its status as atar leumi kadosh – a national holy site of the Jewish people – would be lost. Instead, it would be a synagogue under official haredi control.

All know that the haredi establishment has appropriated this site, turning it by stages into a haredi shrine. But that status is not official. That is what the deal would have done, and that is why the haredi establishment agreed to it, before pressure from its street made it renege.

This part of the deal was kept from public awareness, both in Israel and the Diaspora. But it is not the only far from progressive part of the deal carefully kept from such awareness.

Under the deal, women’s group prayer at the Kotel, which has long had Supreme Court recognition as legal and District Court recognition as “minhag hamakom,” a “custom of the place,” would have been made a criminal offense, punishable by seven years’ imprisonment and heavy fines.”

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