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Current Events Update - Tamuz 5777-June 2017

‏יום שלישי ‏27 ‏יוני ‏2017

1. The Kotel “compromise”: On January 31, 2016, the Israeli Government passed a historic and unprecedented resolution legalizing and officially recognizing the status of egalitarian prayer at the Kotel – the Western Wall, following four years of negotiations. As part of the agreement, the government would turn the Robinson’s Arch archeological park into a deck-like platform with direct access to the Kotel and space for progressive Jews to conduct services such as Bnai and Bnot Mitzvah ceremonies. However, on June 25, 2017, after a year and a half of delaying implementation, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government suddenly decided to rescind their decision, giving in to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) factions. Though they used the language ‘freezing’ the agreement, in reality they are taking it entirely off the table.


2. The egalitarian section is invisible:  Rather than putting an egalitarian section directly next to the other existing sections, we were willing to compromise by having the section further away, provided that it had the same entrance and clear signage.  Over the past year and a half, a deck-like plaza has been used in the Robinson’s Arch area.  The previous agreement included having the Kotel plaza include three equal and clear options with signage and a shared entrance.  As it exists now, any new visitors would be unaware that there is a section in which their entire family can visit and pray at the Wall together; there is no signage and no clear entrance. We are not willing as Reform and progressive Jews to remain invisible.


3. Conversion: On the same day, the Israeli government also advanced a bill that would allow the monopoly over conversions to fall solely into the hands of the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.  This decision reinforces the rigid Orthodox definitions of ‘who is a Jew’ and hands the Chief Rabbinate the power to negate previously performed Halachic conversions solely because they were not performed in the ultra-Orthodox manner.  Together, these decisions undermine the legitimacy and rights of non-Orthodox Jews and religious freedoms in Israel.  


4. The Conversion Law is a strategic threat:  Depending on how the developing bill becomes law, the legal status of converted Jews in the State of Israel could be called into question, and further conversions performed outside of the Chief Rabbinate authority could be considered illegitimate by Israel.  Despite what the legislation claims, this law will also affect diaspora Jews, as it has the potential to hand the Chief Rabbinate power beyond the borders of the State.


5. Recognition from all sides: The Kotel agreement and Conversion Law represent a greater issue of the ultra-Orthodoxy denying Reform Judaism’s fundamental rights and legitimacy. Besides the practical details, the ultimate conflict is that of the power of different Jewish denominations in Israel, straining the diaspora’s relationship with Israel.  The Western Wall is an issue beyond religion and politics, it has become one entirely of power.  Simply, the Kotel must be a space for all people - One Wall for One People.


6. Moving forward in opposition:  These decisions have been met with outrage from a wide variety of international Jewish organizations and voices such as the Jewish Agency for Israel, Union for Reform Judaism, World Zionist Organization, Keren HaYesod, Jewish Federations of North America, The Anti Defamation League, The Board of Deputies of British Jews, and many others. Leaders of world Jewry demand that the Israeli government stand by their principles and their word, asking for immediate reversal of both recent government actions.  


Question and Answer- How to defend our point of view


1.  You have Robinson's Arch, an egalitarian prayers space already. What more do you need?

  1. Original building of Robinson’s Arch was never a “compromise”

  2. It's not visible and we will not be invisible

  3. It is not clearly marked as an egalitarian prayer area. As a tourist you would not know that there was an egalitarian option.  

  4. It is a small platform. The platform that actually allows worshipers to touch the wall is small and can not accommodate groups of worshipers.

  5. The original deal also included the important aspect of recognition of Reform and Conservative streams as legitimate bodies.


2. Reform Judaism doesn’t really care about the Beit Mikdash from the theological standpoint so why do you even care about the Western Wall?

The Western Wall is not just a theological symbol. It is a symbol of Jewish peoplehood that ties us to our past, present and to our future.  The Kotel is a symbol to all of Am Yisrael and it belongs to the entire Jewish People. Existed and will exist.


3. Reform Judaism is inherently anti-Israel and pro-BDS so why do you care about this?

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism explains the Reform Movement’s position: “The Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) have been outspoken in their support of the peace process. Throughout the Reform Movement's history, in times of peace and in times of strife, we have spoken out in unequivocal and unconditional support of the State of Israel and her people. This support stems from a love of the land and an understanding that the destinies of the Jewish people and of Israel are intertwined in an unbreakable connection (URJ Resolution, Support for Israel, 2009).  At the 2009 URJ Biennial in Toronto, the URJ passed a resolution reaffirming its support of Israel and its commitment to a two-state solution. Earlier in the year, the Union Executive Board passed a resolution calling on the governments of the United States and Canada ‘to help foster successful negotiations, to expand and deepen support for Israeli-Palestinian peace among Israel’s Muslim and Arab neighbors, in order to foster simultaneous progress toward Israeli-Palestinian and a broader regional peace.’” Further, the Reform Movement stands strongly against BDS and has published multiple statements in recent years to this effect.


4. Reform Judaism was formed as an anti-Zionist movement so again why do you care?

One of Reform Judaism’s main mantras is its commitment to reevaluate its values and principles ‘in our own time,’ learning from our cultural and historical context and allowing innovation, while sticking to core traditional principles.  The Zionist wing of our movement and the movement itself has adopted the opinion that being a Zionist does not mean support of every action or decision of the Israeli government, but rather a deep and infallible commitment to Israel.  This commitment sometimes requires critique of the status quo and work toward a more inclusive and just Israeli society.  Our Zionism is at the core of our fight toward equality and rights for all Jews in the Jewish homeland and precisely why we will not stand idly by.  


5. Reform Jews are a minority in Israel, why should the government bend to their needs?

  1. Reform Jews are not the only Israelis that will benefit from an Egalitarian plaza. 8% of the population identifies as either Conservative or Reform, and over 250,000 Israelis are exposed to Reform ceremonies, life cycle events and attend High holiday services at Reform congregations each year. There are also many secular Jews who feel more comfortable coming to the wall as a family rather than having to split up.

  2. While the Israeli government has to answer to its citizens, it is also a state for all Am Yisrael- as made abundantly clear by the Israeli government. Israel exists, in principle as a home, as a refuge, for all Jews as mandated in the founding principles of State.

    1. Israel, under the right of return, is supposed to be a home for all Jews who wish to move here.

    2. Diaspora Jewish support, monetarily, politically, and physically is key to the continued strength and stability of Israel.

  3. Jews are not the only ones who visit the Western Wall and feel a connection. Hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish tourists visit the Western Wall each year and are forced to separate by sex in order to  visit.


6. Israelis do not care about this issue.

As mentioned above, quite a few do, and it is not just about the Israeli citizens. Additionally, this breach of contract by the government is a greater symbol of the encroaching power of the ultra-Orthodox on aspects of Israeli life- marriage, divorce, Shabbat.


7. Why do you want to mess with the status quo?

In fact, the separation of men and women at the Kotel only began after 1967, after the Kotel was regained during the Six Day War. This in no way constitutes a status quo, but rather political pressure placed on the government back in the day, as is continued today.


8. You are just creating a divide between the Jewish People.

As we see it, the divide is being created by the Prime Minister and the government. We are not saying that the whole Kotel must fit to our needs, or that there should not be men and women’s separated sections, we are saying that we too deserve equal access.