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    Jewish worshippers draped in prayer shawls perform the annual Cohanim prayer (priest's blessing) during Sukkot, or the feast of the Tabernacles, holiday at the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem on September 30, 2015

    Women and the Western Wall: Spat Boils Over in Choice Words by Ex-Chief Rabbi

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    A religious and social schism in Jewish society dating to the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel gained control over the so-called Western Wall, one of the holiest Jewish religious sites, has become a hot topic after the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrapped the negotiated solution at the very last moment.

    On August 31, the High Court of Justice issued an order for the government to "inform the court by September 14, 2017, whether it is willing to reconsider the implementation of the Western Wall framework decision, which was ‘frozen' in a government decision on June 25, 2017."

    The ruling has been criticized by the Reform movement as "bizarre" and "with no teeth," according to the Times of Israel.

    Shlomo Amar, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem and the former Chief Rabbi of Israel had some extremely choice words for Reform Jews, a liberal denomination of the Jewish religion, following the government's decision. "It's like Holocaust deniers, it's the same thing," he said. "They shout about Holocaust deniers in Iran, but they deny more than Holocaust deniers."

    What could prompt such a heinous accusation?

    Reform Jews want men and women to pray together at the Western Wall.

    "They don't have Yom Kippur or Shabbat but they want to pray [at the Western Wall]. But no one should think that they want to pray, they want to desecrate the holy," he said during a lecture first reported Tuesday in the Haredi Orthodox news website Kikar HaShabbat.

    The divide between the two communities comes from the question of prayer at, and control over, the holy site: Orthodox Jews control the Western Wall and treat it as a Ultra-Orthodox synagogue. This means men and women must pray while separated by a formidable barrier, and women are not allowed to wear the trademark kippot cap, the "tallitot" prayer shawls or carry a scroll of Torah to the site. Women are also forbidden to pray in loud voices.

    In 1988 a group of English-speaking women from the first International Jewish Feminist Conference visited Israel. Unaware of the heavy Orthodox restrictions, they attempted to read the Torah at the Western Wall, and were subsequently attacked by religious zealots. Since then, the two groups have been hostile.

    In 2003, the government finally took notice of the quarrel and attempted to resolve the impasse by creating an egalitarian prayer space on the outskirts of the wall: both men and women were allowed to pray together there, as well as read Torah freely, but the space provided no clear view on the Wall and even accessing the place was largely inconvenient. So the fight went on, as the liberal Jews wanted to be put on equal footing with the rest.

    In 2016, Prime Minister Netanyahu came up with a plan to expand and upgrade the egalitarian space so it would put everyone on equal footing, but the implementation of the plan was suddenly cancelled earlier this June, reportedly thanks to pressure of the Orthodox parties, on whom the Prime Minister depend heavily upon.

    Behind the protests and heavy rhetoric there is a deeper political issue: most of the Reform Jews are American citizens, while most of the Orthodox Jews are Israelis, Haaretz explains. Considering Israel's ties to the Diaspora in the United States, one might think the Prime Minister would not like to disappoint either of those groups.

    But something went wrong, and the national government came up with a brilliant decision to ditch the compromise plan entirely. Fresh out of the Temple Mount crisis, Israel now plunges into another religious crisis, with Reform leaders claiming they won't stop fighting for equal access to the Western Wall and Orthodox leaders fighting tooth-and-nail against what they perceive to be a challenge to their power over the religion.

    "Any attempt to damage the authority of the rabbinate in determining the principles of Jewish law at the [holy] site harms the rule of law and the sovereignty of the State of Israel and will bring about division among the nation," the Chief Rabbinate said in a statement to the press, according to the Jerusalem Post.

    Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, observed, "Blame for the escalation of the situation and the tension lies entirely with the prime minister, who lacked the required leadership to implement his government's decision,"  Ynet News reported.

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    Tags:
    Religion, Judaism, rights, equality, Western Wall, Shlomo Amar, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, Jerusalem
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