Gusti Yehoshua Braverman
Published in “Haaretz” daily on April 14, 2013
So – a compromise or an outline was established. Hence, even an apparent solution. Chairman of The Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, appointed by the Prime Minister to find a solution to the conflict in the KOTEL Square (Wailing Wall) between those who support women’s prayer in the central square wearing prayer shawls and holding holy scriptures and those who oppose it – is soon due to submit his recommendations to the Prime Minister, following long consultations with Diaspora Jewry. Accordingly, the Central Square would remain under the jurisdiction of the KOTEL Rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Robinowitz, a leading opponent to the prayer practices of “The Women of the Wall”, while the others – men and women who wish to pray in their own way rather than in that of the KOTEL Rabbi – would be privileged to receive their “God’s little acre” that would be attached to the “Robinson’s Arch” square which has been serving as the protected area of the “others” for almost a decade. Together they would form a dignified location for prayer with an access to the desired wall and to the main entrance.
Prima facie, this probable decision is a kind of a process of a meaningful change and a glimpse of hope for amendment of the status of all the Jewish streams. Sharansky managed to find an outline that would satisfy the various streams and, even more so, calm down the dispute between the two radical opponents who were attacking each other in public. However, one must remember that the struggle for the nature of prayer in the Western Wall Square is, basically, a Media issue and, as such, it is bound to seem radical and out of any contact with the daily reality. Just as not all Orthodox Jews believe that the way of the Conservative and the Reform is out to cause disaster (as Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz wrote in an article published in YNET under the heading “Among Fanatics: Beware of those who wish to destroy the KOTEL”) – so not all Reform and Conservative feel comfortable with some of the provocative acts of the “Women of the Wall” even though they may believe that their goal is worthy and their struggle just. This struggle is, in fact, worthy and just. However, its resonance is stereotyped and superficial and the basic discussion is turning into a media festival of colorful figures – women wearing KIPOT, bearded men from the SHTETL and anyone else who thinks they might gain some screen time.
The issue one should consider regarding the struggle of the “Women of the Wall” is much more serious and fundamental. In the State of Israel and in Israeli society, A Priori, the dominant voice is that of the Orthodox. Orthodox hegemony rules every single religious and governmental institution – it prevails over any religious – spiritual discussion in the Israel public. To the Israeli public the more “rigid” Jew is the “genuine” religious one whereas, the one who doubts contemporary Halacha is perceived as searching for loopholes for his own comfort and thus, the KOTEL Rabbi feels comfortable to express rigid statements for the Media.
The Reform and Conservative are not “convenient” Movements designated to make it easier for people to convert, marry or get divorced. They offer cognitive and ideological choices for the way in which individuals may choose to realize their connection to religion so as not to jeopardize the rights of other individuals. Unfortunately, in Israel, the Orthodox way is still the default and, any criticism that ventures to expose the belligerence of Orthodox bureaucracy is considered void of “genuine” religious content, provocative or Halachicly ignorant. Actually, it’s rather the opposite – ignorance is preva lent among most Israelis who avoid doubting any of those rigid Halachic decrees that are voiced time and again, driven by the thought that the more extreme we get, the more faithful we shall be to our religion. This is a superficial kind of thinking, void of any religious content and deriving from Halachic ignorance.
I was not born into the Reform Movement. Unlike many Israelis who were born to Orthodox or semi - orthodox traditional families, I chose to be religious in my own way: one that enables me to connect to the Jewish tradition, to practice religion as a part of a community and, at the same time, to object to any racist or chauvinist behavior and to reveal its imaginary holy cloak.
I have great respect to anyone’s choice to follow the Orthodox form of prayer and I do not wish to generalize by saying that the opinion of all Orthodox Jews of all those who are not – is identical. However, until the Israeli public will realize that there is more than one way to practice Jewish life, I am afraid that any struggle that would undermine the Orthodox dominance would miss the point of a genuine discussion about the nature of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State. This way, the Israeli public will continue to divide into two poles that are drifting apart while Diaspora Jews, most of whom recognize the various religious streams as equal, will continue to drift apart from Israel.
The writer is the Chairperson of the Department for Diaspora Activities of the WZO, Representative of the Reform Movement in the World Zionist Executive and former Deputy Director of the Reform Movement in Israel.
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