212-870-5880 The Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel foundation@masorti.org

A week ago I had the honor and pleasure to attend early morning prayers at the egalitarian Family Kotel, a section also known as Ezrat Yisrael, that is coordinated by the Masorti Movement of Israel.  Here we gathered –men and women, rabbis and lay people, Israelis and Diaspora Jews — to experience the holiness of the Western Wall with full equality.

We then watched in horror that afternoon as hundreds of extremist Orthodox activists invaded the Family Kotel section and constructed a mechitza to disrupt two egalitarian Bnai Mitzvah.  This outrage was made even worse when these zealots returned Saturday evening to curse, scream and intimidate Masorti (Conservative) worshippers and others seeking spiritual sustenance in egalitarian Jewish prayer on Tisha B’Av,

Masorti spoke out condemning the desecration of the Kotel and essential meaning of Tisha B’Av, and welcomed strong statements of support from many leading Israeli political figures and international Jewish organizations. Besides condemning the desecration of the Tisha B’Av service, many called for the full implementation of the 2016 Kotel Agreement — placed on hold by former Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu under extreme pressure from Haredi ultra-Orthodox politicians — that would have improved the facilities at the Family Kotel, created a common entrance to all sections, and most importantly provided a key role for Masorti, Reform and Women of the Wall in the oversight of the Kotel complex.  In the face of the affront to egalitarian prayer at the Kotel, Masorti is renewing its One Wall for One People Campaign.

Will this outrageous affront be the final straw that leads to greater equality of treatment and access at the Kotel?  Hopefully, but this is not at all a done deal.  Just yesterday, Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana (Yemina) seemed to argue against quick action for a just and inclusive result, declaring, “it is not on my to-do list for the next two months.” 

We will not be deterred by this setback.  And today we celebrate support from an unexpected source —  Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Bracha near Nablus in the West Bank.  Writing in Hebrew on the right-wing Orthodox media site Arutz 7, Rabbi Melamed declared,

“Since there are many Jews who identify with the Conservative and Reform movement, and according to their guiding values they have arranged for themselves common prayers for men and women…and they wish to pray at the Kotel as they wish, it would be right to state that in the Ezrat Israel section they should be able to hold their prayers with due respect…”

“And if the number of people praying under their leadership increases…the authorities will increase and expand the Ezrat Israel section for them as needed. And the members of the religious and Haredi communities who observe the laws and the customs should not be sad that members of these movements come to the Western Wall, but rejoice that more Jewish brethren are connected with the area of the Temple and more brethren want to pray to our Father in heaven, and they should look favorably on the fact that even though we disagree with their changes in the halacha we know how to respect and appreciate all the good things in them. The sanctification of the Name is bigger than the desecration of the Name.”

Read more about Rabbi Melamed and his statement on the Kotel in The Jewish Press. 

Should we look for Rabbi Melamed at a Masorti service in the near future?  Definitely not. He in no way shares Masorti’s vision of modern, halachic, egalitarian Judaism in Israel.  But at a time of grave divisions in the Jewish world, his principled stand for the value of pluralism, is an encouraging source of confidence that we may be working towards a time of unity, not uniformity, of the Jewish people.  And this is a blessing to be treasured.

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