Netanyahu asks for review of restrictive policy on women's prayers at Kotel
JERUSALEM—Amid outrage across the Jewish diaspora over Israel’s flurry of recent arrests of women seeking to pray at the Western Wall with ritual garments — in defiance of Israeli law — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, to study the issue and suggest ways to make the site more accommodating to all Jews.There's definitely something to this. The Haredi-controlled foundation that runs the Western Wall has become alarmingly corrupt, and the biggest irony is that the people in charge are probably no better than the Reform movement themselves.
The move comes after more than two decades of civil disobedience by a group called Women of the Wall against regulations, legislation and a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that allow for gender division at the wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, and prohibit women from carrying a Torah or wearing prayer shawls there.
Although the movement has struggled to gain traction in Israel, where the ultra-Orthodox retain great sway over public life, the issue has deepened a divide between the Jewish state and the Jewish diaspora at a time when Israel is battling international isolation over its settlement policy. Critics, particularly leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States, complain that the government’s recent aggressive enforcement of restrictions at the wall has turned a national monument into an ultra-Orthodox synagogue.
“The prime minister thinks the Western Wall has to be a site that expresses the unity of the Jewish people, both inside Israel and outside the state of Israel,” Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s senior adviser, said in an interview Tuesday. “He wants to preserve the unity of world Jewry. This is an important component of Israel’s strength.”
Sharansky said the Jewish Agency itself stopped having ceremonies for new immigrants in the plaza about two years ago after the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which controls the site, said men and women could not sit together. Under pressure from the international groups that provide its financing, the agency on Oct. 30 passed a resolution calling for a “satisfactory approach to the issue of prayer at the Western Wall.”No matter how disapproving I am of the Reform sect because of their dreadful stance on Zionism, barring them from the Wall the way they are wouldn't do anything to encourage them to revise their positions.
Asked whether he could imagine a day when women could wear prayer shawls and read Torah at the wall itself, Sharansky said, “I imagine very easily a situation where everybody will have their opportunity to express their solidarity with Judaism and the Jewish people and the state of Israel in a way he or she wants, without undermining the other.”
As far as reading from a Torah scroll is concerned, I don't think it's an abomination for a woman to read and study one. If women respect the Torah in itself, that's surely got to be a good thing. The question is if Reform Jews actually respect God's granting of Israel to the Jewish people, and Zionism is synonymous with patriotism, so where do they stand on that? That's one problem I have with the Reform movement - whether they actually do support stuff like that or not. Beyond that, if they want to have the right to conduct their prayers in the Western Wall plaza just like Orthodox, I can respect that. I just hope that if Netanyahu and Sharansky's efforts bear fruit, they'll be grateful for it.
And the would-be rabbis who're undermining the immigration ceremonies at the Wall need to consider the message they're sending to newcomers in Israel.
Update: here's a Jerusalem Post article by Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi on the subject.
Update 2: here's another op-ed on Israel National News by Rochel Sylvetsky that tells that women actually are allowed to wear tallis and certainly to hold Torah scrolls.