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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 04_12_2013
04/11/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
April 12, 2013

 

Equality. Diversity. Pluralism. These are familiar words to us. They are part of our vocabulary and our outlook. But, in Israel, they have been foreign words even in Hebrew. The orthodox have a lock on all religious matters, including how men and women pray at the Western Wall, the holiest site for all Jews. It is here that non-orthodox women have led protests to open the Western Wall to egalitarian modes of worship, such as men and women praying together and women who want to read Torah and wear a tallis, a prayer shawl.

                “The Women of the Wall”, as they have come to be known, have been arrested, insulted, and assaulted by orthodox men who find these women’s wants to be incursions on Jewish law. Protests and tests of wills by mostly non-orthodox women from across the world, most notably from America, have drawn media attention and enormous support for their cause. In recent days, some progress was made when Natan Sharansky proposed “one Western Wall for one Jewish people.” He called for a solution to “soothe over the differences by creating a permanent area for mixed-gender and women-led prayer.” The AP also reports that “it would be located in an area on a lower level, where limited mixed-gender prayer already is allowed, but which mainly serves as an archaeological site. The area would be renovated with a platform that would place it at the same level as the rest of the Western Wall plaza and it would be open to worshipers around the clock, just like the exiting men’s and women’s sections.”

                For those who have been there, the area they are recommending to enlarge is Robinson’s Arch. Currently, non-orthodox bar and bat mitzvah services are often held by Robinson’s Arch and led by Reform and Conservative rabbis. Sharansky’s plan has much merit, and up until Thursday morning (Houston time), it was lauded by Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who heads Israel’s Reform Jewish movement. At the time, he said that it could be a watershed moment for liberal Judaism. “If the Israeli government embraces the solution, I think it’s a breakthrough of relations between the Israeli government and the progressive Jewish world,” Kariv said. Even the Western Wall’s Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, endorsed the compromise solution. He said, “I want everyone to pray according to Orthodox Jewish religious law, but I won’t interfere. If these things can be done at the Western Wall without hurting others, and this can bring about compromise and serenity, I don’t object.”

                But, if you thought that equality, diversity and pluralism were foreign words in Israel, add compromise to the list. Thursday morning’s news brought new reports of arrests of five women at the Wall. Kariv remarked, “The new government has to decide if they truly want to seek a comprehensive solution or if all they are trying to do is to please world Jewry for a few months.” Progressive Judaism’s goal is perfectly clear. It is not to be appeased for a few months. It is unequivocally to cultivate in Israel the enduring values of non-Orthodox Judaism which include equality, diversity and pluralism for peace among Jews.

                In a region where peace eludes us, should it also elude the Jewish people whose central tenet is faith in One God? Is it not with One people that God made a sacred covenant? Sharanksy put it best, “One Western Wall for One Jewish People”. Take it from a man who knew a time when he couldn’t pray with his people at all. May God have mercy on our people; may God help us find the wisdom to seek God in peace.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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