I was asked by the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles on Monday to react and share my thoughts about the Prime Minister of Israel’s action to reneg on the deal to create egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, known as the Kotel in Hebrew. The Western Wall is one of the few remaining remnants of the Roman era Second Temple. The wall held up the enlarged mountain platform where the temple stood prior to the year 70, when it was destroyed by the Roman army. It was a terrible blow to the Jewish people and the Israelite nation was destroyed. The Jewish residents of Jerusalem and Israel were ripped from their homeland and sent into exile. Another Jewish nation would not arise until the modern state of Israel in 1948 on that holy ground.
When Jerusalem was reunified following the Six Day War when Israel was attacked by her Arab neighbors and Israel recaptured the Old City and the Temple Mount after nearly 2000 years–the Western Wall long a symbol of our people’s agony became a renewed symbol of our endurance. The Wall and the plaza today have been taken over slowly but surely by the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel and they have created an Orthodox synagogue at the national monument. Following Orthodox prayer customs there is a separate men’s and women’s section.
After many years of protest by an organization Women of the Wall seeking equality for women’s prayer at the Kotel, and joined by the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism who believe in equal religious rights and rites for women, as well as mixed gender prayer and equality negotiation with the government of Israel began. It took more than four years but a compromise was reached to build an appropriate prayer space of equal beauty and access for liberal Jews who wish to pray in their style at the Kotel. The Israeli Government dragged its feet this last year-and little progress was made on actually constructing the site. And then out of the blue–the Prime Minister calls the deal off.
Trust has been broken with Jews around the world.
Here is my reaction printed in this week’s Jewish Journal.
L.A. clergy respond to the Kotel controversy
We have seen the selling out of the Jewish people for crass political power. However, it isn’t usually done by a prime minister of Israel to Jews around the world. Benjamin Netanyahu’s crass political move to renege on the compromise reached with the Reform and Conservative Movements and Women of the Wall on appropriate egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel is alarming and shameful.
The plan to build egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall was negotiated by the prime minister’s own representatives. His representatives Natan Sharansky and now-attorney general Avichai Mendelbilt were the ones who spoke for the Israeli government. It was hailed as an historic agreement by the prime minister’s own office. Netanyahu came to the U.S. and himself addressed American Jewry about the importance of this.
I sat across from the prime minister a year ago February in his office when he assured me and rabbinic leaders of the Reform Movement, “It will happen.” Following the meeting at the annual convention of the Reform rabbinate in 2016, we held the first services in what was to eventually become the new space. It was a spiritually uplifting and moving experience to pray with my fellow rabbis next to the ancient and historical symbol of our people’s continuity, men and women together as is our authentic Jewish experience.
The prime minister, who claims to speak for all Jews, has betrayed a significant portion of the Jewish people by giving in to Charedi demands. He is not a man of his word or a man of honor and he is leading the government of Israel to act immorally.
The sacrifices of the ancient Temple were designed to restore wholeness and holiness to individuals who have sinned and to the Jewish people. Prime Minister Netanyahu instead has sacrificed the majority of American Jews on the altar of his political expediency, reinforcing the very sin that destroyed the ancient Temple: sinat chinam, the hatred of Jew against Jew. This is the sin our Talmudic Sages teach destroyed the Temple. Netanyahu’s actions further alienate American Jews from finding a place and connection to the Jewish homeland. As a Reform rabbi I try to build up that connection and help Jews find their way home. The prime minister has increased the distance and removed the welcome mat from the doorway.
Rabbi Denise L. Eger, Congregation Kol Ami