Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Clock Ticking On Kosel Controversy

Sarah Pardes

Supreme Court sets late-November date for solution

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

 Mishpacha image

Orthodox demonstrators form a human wall to stop egalitarian protesters from reaching the Western Wall (Photo: Flash90)

F or David and Bat-Sheva Weisenstern, it was the end of an agonizing morning at the Kosel. The couple, who manage the coffee stand that for some 18 years has been giving away free coffee, tea, and other refreshments to worshippers who arrive for the haneitz minyan, were overwrought at the return of the “Women of the Wall” (WOW) on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. Their mixed prayer service, a clear provocation to Orthodox worshipers, led to clashes at the Kosel Plaza.

“I just can’t stand the spectacle any longer,” David said, apologizing for closing his stand early. “It’s a desecration of Hashem’s Name and a sacrilege at such a holy place. I blame the Supreme Court for opening such a precedent, but I also blame the security guards, who normally will stop such groups from even bringing in a Megillas Esther to the site. Today they let them bring in ten sifrei Torah.”

The Kosel security forces were overwhelmed by as many as 200 members of Reform and Conservative groups protesting what they call government inaction on its decision almost ten months ago to designate a section of the Kosel’s southern wall in the area known as Robinson’s Arch for egalitarian prayer. The Netanyahu government has been stalling for time, under threats from chareidi coalition members to bolt the government unless the decision is modified.

But the “Women of the Wall” have not kept their end of the bargain either. The Rosh Chodesh clashes broke out after WOW headed straight for the women’s section instead of Robinson’s Arch. They were greeted by protestors — some chareidim, and some from the national-religious stream — including Motti Dan, head of the Ateret Cohanim group, who, like Weisenstern, said Kosel security was lax.

“These people didn’t land from the sky,” Dan said. “You could see them coming with their sifrei Torah, and they should have been stopped at the entrance.”

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation is responsible for security at the site. Rabbanim at the Kosel manage the distribution of the sifrei Torah and normally do not allow anyone to bring in their own. “Out of trepidation that nothing adverse would happen to the sifrei Torah, I instructed our guards to avoid physical confrontations with the demonstrators, who callously violated the agreement made with the state attorney general and every religious custom since time immemorial,” said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rav of the Kosel.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz: “Out of trepidation that nothing adverse would happen to the sifrei Torah, I instructed our guards to avoid physical confrontations with the demonstrators, who callously violated the agreement made with the state attorney general and every religious custom since time immemorial”

Initially, police did not intervene, other than to film the incidents. Under Israeli law, the police are responsible only for the public areas around the Kosel. “The only time police intervene at the Kosel Plaza is if there is violence that security guards can’t control. Then we can step in to separate the combatants,” says Shabtay Gabarchik, a police spokesman for the chareidi media.

Asked why the police obstructed the work of some of the Kosel security guards, Gabarchik said that some of the guards used excessive force and the police moved in to distance each side from the other. “If there had been enough security guards on duty, this whole provocation wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.”

At some point, someone will have to give ground.

The clock is ticking on the Netanyahu government. Last week, the Supreme Court gave the government a three-week deadline to respond, or risk a court ruling to force their hand. On Tuesday of this week, members of the Knesset Interior Committee and the Chief Rabbinate were scheduled to visit the Kosel to review possible new arrangements.

In a statement to the media, Prime Minister Netanyahu placed the blame for the latest disturbance on the demonstrators “The unilateral violation of the status quo at the Western Wall this morning undermines our ongoing efforts to reach a compromise.”

That followed pleas from both Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein two days earlier at the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem, where Netanyahu asked Jews from chutz l’Aretz to show patience and tolerance while a compromise is reached over the stalled agreement.

Edelstein was more forceful, saying public petitions abroad and protests in Israel only make a resolution more difficult. He also said it was “not helpful” for Diaspora Jews to criticize Israelis for being too Orthodox, or vice versa. “When we do so, we only weaken the bonds between us,” he said. “I say this out of concern for our shared future as a Jewish people, a long-term view that must transcend any short-term matter.”

Related Stories

Mesorah of Miracles

Yisroel Besser

It’s been five years since the passing of Rosh Yeshivah Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel ztz”l, yet striving f...

Meat and Memories in Uruguay

Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky & Dr. Ari Greenspan

Did a crypto-Jewish community in Uruguay date back to the 1700s? A dwindling modern community tries ...

Late Arrivals Plague El Al

Tzippy Yarom

Who’s holding up Israeli airline flights?

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"