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Guardian of the Gates

Shimon Breitkopf

Chief Rabbi David Lau was not consulted when the Knesset arrived at a Kosel “compromise agreement” involving the planned construction of a massive prayer pavilion adjoining the Kosel’s southern extension, along with new entry gates marked Men, Women, and Mixed. But even though it’s been presented to him as fait accompli, that doesn’t mean he won’t put up a fight.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Construction moves at a snail’s pace in the State of Israel, but Chief Rabbi David Lau, for one, doesn’t mind. The Ashkenazic chief rabbi hopes to use that fact to his advantage in his efforts to overturn a cabinet decision two weeks ago to build a new mixed-gender prayer pavilion at the southern extension of the Kosel to accommodate non-Orthodox groups, including the most vocal of them, the Women of the Wall. Much can happen in the two years projected for implementation of the 35 million NIS plan to dramatically expand the non-Orthodox section, which actually already exists near the Kosel’s southern wall in the archaeological park known as Robinson’s Arch. But Rabbi Lau is not sitting tight, taking things for granted. The cabinet decision is one of several major breaches to erode the power of the chief rabbinate since he took office in August of 2013, and he’s determined to take decisive action. Just a year ago, the chief rabbinate was compelled to relax some provisions of its kashrus laws after the Supreme Court struck down the rabbinate’s authority to determine, or even withdraw an establishment’s kashrus certification, based on its overall religious character. Other nongovernmental organizations are also eating away at the rabbinate’s control over marriages and divorces, and last week, the Supreme Court ruled that mikvaos must be opened to non-Orthodox conversions. It is with this backdrop, with both religion, and the rabbinate — the office charged with enforcing Torah law to the extent of its ability in a country of mixed religious affiliation — under siege, that we sat with Rabbi Lau to discuss the latest erosion in Orthodox authority.

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