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Frozen Plans, Heated Demands

Shlomi Gil

Some of the most ardent fighters for preserving the holiness of the Wall don’t identify as “chareidi” — and none are more tenacious than Matti Dan

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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WALL WARRIOR One of the myths propagated by the Reform movement is that the battle over the status quo at the Kosel is a fight between the chareidim (the “ultra-Orthodox”) and the rest of world Jewry. In truth, some of the most ardent fighters for preserving the religious character of the Wall would not call themselves chareidi. And the most vocal and persistent warrior in the battle is Matti Dan

O ne of the myths propagated by the Reform movement is that the battle over the status quo at the Kosel is a fight between the chareidim (the “ultra-Orthodox”) and the rest of world Jewry. In truth, some of the most ardent fighters for preserving the religious character of the Wall would not call themselves chareidi and are staunchly entrenched in the nationalist (considered more “pluralistic” camp). And the most vocal and persistent warrior in the battle to abolish these new attempted forays of the Reform movement is Matti Dan, better known for his role over the last 40 years as the redeemer of Jewish properties in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.

Dan, founder of Ateret Cohanim in what is commonly referred to as the Muslim Quarter — but what he more accurately terms “Central Old Jerusalem” as it was actually a mixed quarter until the Jordanian Legion overran the area in 1948 — is practically single-handedly responsible for the Jewish repopulation and redemption of Jewish properties in the area. His people have been working with Jewish philanthropists since the 1970s to repurchase properties in the Old City, many of which were owned by Jews before 1948, but fell into Muslim hands after the War of Independence when Jordan took control of the Old City. Today more than 80 Jewish families live in these properties, spread out in various enclaves in the Muslim and Christian Quarters. His organization is involved in redeeming properties with similar ownership status in other neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well, including Shimon Hatzaddik, Silwan, and Maaleh Zeitim.

Matti Dan, the man who raised the alarm bells on the basic legality of the now-shelved cabinet agreement that has caused an international uproar by Reform activists over the last two weeks, says all his moves are coordinated with gedolei Yisrael. While this past year has seen him put much of his other work on hold in order to campaign against the Reform’s inroads into the Holy City, he’s also known for his vigorous opposition to those from the Religious Zionist movement who ascend Har Habayis in contravention to the opinion of the poskim of recent generations and of the chief rabbinate.

The Reform movement might claim it represents the majority of world Jewry and is therefore entitled to equal rights at the Western Wall, but even if majority often rules, when it comes to the Kosel and other holy sites in Eretz Yisrael, the plan that was initiated to appease this plurality — and the suspension of which has caused the international furor — actually has little legal standing. And that could be the major reason the Netanyahu government agreed to suspend implementation of a cabinet decision to provide space for egalitarian prayer at the Kosel, as opposed to the more popular media narrative that Bibi caved to his chareidi coalition partners on this hot-potato issue.

Matti Dan examines the Robinson’s Arch site with Shas Minister Aryeh Deri. “I don’t think they realized the impending catastrophe. It passed beneath their radar”

For years there has been a place for egalitarian prayer south of the Kosel Plaza along the Southern Wall archaeological park, known as Robinson’s Arch, but in January 2016, the government went a step further in light of high-profile demonstrations and the threat of a High Court petition. According to the cabinet decision, while the current Kosel would remain under Orthodox jurisdiction, the existing prayer space at Robinson’s Arch would be greatly expanded and improved, with one main entrance to serve both the Orthodox and non-Orthodox sections, where there is mixed-gender prayer and where the Women of the Wall are able to publicly pray with tefillin and read from a sefer Torah.

But the fine print also said that Robinson’s Arch area would be run by its own independent council, to be established alongside the already-existing, government-run Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Unlike the existing foundation, though, which is subservient to the Chief Rabbinate, the new foundation would consist of exclusively non-Orthodox representatives, and it would have exclusive control over its own 40-million-shekel budget. Neither the rav of the Western Wall, the chief rabbinate or any halachic authority would have any say at the southern wall plaza.

Matti Dan was horrified that day last January when he learned that the plan had been approved by the cabinet. No one seemed to notice that the very legality of the plan was questionable.

“I was stunned,” Dan tells Mishpacha. “I never imagined that the State of Israel would wrench its holiest site out of the hands of the Chief Rabbinate and give it over to the independent jurisdiction of those who’ve contaminated Judaism from within. I could not tolerate this shame.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 668)

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