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Wake Up!

Yom Sheni, 29th of Sh'vat, 5776
Monday, February 8, 2016

The Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the place where Jews - all of the Jewish people - have come for nearly two thousand years to connect to the most special place in the world for them.1 The Jewish people have come to this place for almost two millennia because this is the place where the Temple stood. Long ago, when the Jewish people all lived in Israel, they would come to Jerusalem from all over the Land, converging on this spot to connect, as individuals, and as a people, with G-d, HaShem. They brought prayers, they brought sacrifices, they brought thoughts, feelings - they brought their whole selves to this place.

The location of the Kotel, the "Wall", in the time of the Temple.
The location of the Kotel, the "Wall", today.


The section of the Western Wall known as the Kotel, literally the Wall, is the place that is nearest for us to where the Temple stood. Some people say that this place, where all the Jewish people connect, is the nearest prayer site to the Holy of Holies, the specialist of special places, but that is not true. There is another place in Jerusalem today where you can get close to the Holy of Holies, and even another place - in the tunnels under Jerusalem - where you can get really close.2 But the Kotel, the Wall, is the place that is simply nearest to the Temple, which is the place that all Jews - every Jewish person, every kind of Jew - came to connect with G-d.

Last week a plan was announced, in negotiations that lasted for only three years, to separate some of the Jewish people from this place that belongs to all of the Jewish people.3 The Netanyahu government, with influence from Chareidi, or ultra-Orthodox, members of his coalition,4 issued its latest divisive proclamation, giving the Kotel, the place where every Jew belongs, to the ultra Orthodox, who make up only 10 percent of the Jewish people, and sent the other 90 percent of the Jewish people to the southwest corner of the wall, the place where no one belongs.

The proposed plan for Orthodox (purple), and WOW, Reform, and Conservative (blue), prayer spaces.
The Temple Mount, showing the corner to where the non-Orthodox are excluded in the plan.


News sources have praised this plan as an important step toward broader religious acceptance in Jerusalem and Israel, claiming that it gives the Women of the Wall (WOW) and the Reform and Conservative movements official recognition in Israel. But that is clearly stretching the truth. WOW, Reform, and Conservative do not really win. This is another move by the ultra Orthodox, better described as an ultra-conservative - fundamentalist - group within Jewry, to exert control over the whole of the Jewish people. The deal gives the Chareidim complete control of the place that all of the Jewish people have long considered their most sacred site.

And even at the Kotel, the place where all Jews now belong, the future could, G-d forbid, appear worse in the new plan. Rightly, women and men should get half of the space at the Wall, but today men have nearly three times as much space as women.5 For now, the ultra-Orthodox authority at the Kotel - and one can debate whether that authority is even appropriate at the Wall - still has to contend with the interests of the other 90 percent of the Jewish people. If, G-d forbid, the plan were to take effect, the space available to women could diminish, or there could be further restrictions - G-d forbid.

The Kotel plaza, 74% for men, 26% for women.
The Kotel plaza, 100% for all of the Jewish people.


I think we need to question whether the group that believes it should be closest to the site of the Temple, the place where all Jews belong, truly represents the most important ideals of the Jewish nation - viewing all people as being created in G-d's image, deserving of fair treatment and compassion. That's what qualifies a person and a nation for closeness to G-d. Instead this exclusive group within Jewry is disrespectful to women and to other Jewish groups6, and rejects major social changes in the world of the last century and a half. Do they deserve exclusive access to this place that is special for the entire Jewish nation? I think, no.

I think we need a new plan for the Western Wall, the place where everyone belongs. The Kotel should be a place where every Jew can come and pray to G-d, read the Torah, observe any of the commandments in Judaism, connect with their fellow Jews and with HaShem in joy and freedom, as one people, with one G-d, even if we're not all the same kind of Jew. It's time to end the ultra-Orthodox dominance at this most important place, so that everyone can have a voice at the Wall. That's how it was when the Temple stood, and how it will be again - we can all always come to this one place.





1 Gitlitz, David M., and Davidson, Linda K. (2005). Pilgrimage and the Jews. Westport, CT: Praeger. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/reader/0275987639?_encoding=UTF8&query=western%20wall#reader_0275987639
2 HaKotel HaKatan. Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim. Retrieved from https://www.ateret.org.il/english/buildings/hakotel-hakatan.asp
3 Kershner, I. (2016, January 31). Israel Approves Prayer Space at Western Wall for Non-Orthodox Jews. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/01/world/middleeast/israel-western-wall-prayer.html
4 Magnus, S. S. (2016, January 28). Deal or no deal: We shall not be moved. The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved from http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Deal-or-no-deal-We-shall-not-be-moved-443135
5 Ettinger, Y. (2016, January 31). Compromise Creates Two Western Walls for Two Peoples. Haaretz. Retrieved from http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.700538
6 Kershner, I. (2016, February 2). New Western Wall Prayer Space Highlights Wider Divide Among Jews. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/03/world/middleeast/new-western-wall-prayer-space-highlights-wider-divide-among-jews.html