Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Hecht, Presidium Igud Harabonim – Rabbinical Alliance of America
For the past few weeks there is an ongoing painful controversy regarding the Western Wall prayer area that heretofore has been apportioned into two areas – a women’s section and a men’s section – separated by the traditional (mechitza) partition.
A third egalitarian area at Robinson Arch is assigned for mixed meetings and prayer so as to afford all a place to pray at the Western Wall area according to their conviction or belief.
As recently as November 2016 – I was fortunate to visit Israel and to spend considerable time in prayer at the KOSEL and to observe first-hand the openly welcoming spirit of unity and respect enjoyed by all ethnicities – Jew or gentile – young or old visiting or praying at the venerated KOSEL that is the last remaining remnant of our Holy Beit-HaMikdash — devastated by the Romans in 70 CE.
Being on site I really marveled and kvelled with joy seeing firsthand as to how the KOSEL unites all people and is truly the fulfillment of the prophetic vision “for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7).
However, progressive advocates are dissatisfied by the status quo and are insisting on doing away with millennia of Jewish tradition by demanding that a mixed gender prayer area directly facing Judaism’s most holy site the KOSEL be mandated by the State of Israel.
Matters of Jewish law and tradition are vested within the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and recognized as such by the State of Israel. The Rabbinate has indicated that a mixed gender area at the KOSEL is not in keeping with Jewish law or in keeping with the decorum or traditions of the KOSEL.
At present threats to withhold financial support of the State of Israel have been made by prominent lay and progressive rabbinic leaders in the United States and Canada calling upon the State of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to forcibly implement a mixed gender prayer area at the KOSEL.
To my dismay it is reported that certain Federated agencies serving the Jewish community have already assigned significant funding to campaign through billboards in Israel, and through their access to the secular media outlets and Jewish newspapers etc. here in the states and in Israel – a public relations campaign to delegitimize the status quo at the KOSEL and to influence the government of Israel to acquiesce to their demands.
Understandably those observant of Torah & Mitzvah (Halacha/Jewish Law) refuse to have this innovation introduced at this very sacred and venerated site of our people.
Progressive elements within the Jewish community in the United States have made rash inflammatory and incendiary statements such as: The State of Israel delegitimizes the Judaism and identity of those who are non-Orthodox.
This is not only incorrect and misleading but only serves to alienate many from their support of Israel and sense of belonging and unity of world Jewry.
Indeed, we are all one People with one Torah given by One G-D at Sinai.
As Israel faces many external and internal challenges it would be prudent and judicious to cease and desist from making the KOSEL an object of strife and dissension.
We should not be party to making it a symbol or beachhead for confrontation between Israel and the Diaspora community. Indeed the KOSEL is the place that unites all people.
It ought to remain that way.