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Emanuel Bar Mitzvah Goes Ahead in Old City, but Not at Western Wall

Though it was a private family affair, it served as a basis for renewed accusations that Haredi extremists have taken control of national sites.

Zach Emanuel, the son of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Davidson Center in the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday.

Rahm Emanuel in Old City 27.5.2010
Tomer Appelbaum

Though it was a private family affair, attended by some 50 family members and friends, it served as a basis for renewed accusations that the ultra-Orthodox have taken control of Jewish sites, since the bar mitzvah boy (and his cousin Noah ) read the Torah portion at an archaeological park near the southern wall of the Temple Mount, not at the Western Wall plaza itself.

"One can hope that this additional example of the affront and damage entailed in giving control of national sites to Haredi extremists will increase the awareness of the need to fundamentally change policy," said Rabbi Uri Regev, president of Hiddush, an organization advocating freedom of religion in Israel.

Regev said the Emanuel family had wanted to hold the bar mitzvah at the Western Wall but went for the Davidson Center instead because of "Haredi extremism."

However, the family rabbi - Jack Moline, rabbi of the Conservative Agudas Achim Congregation in Northern Virginia, who officiated at the event - said he did not agree that the Emanuel family had been shunted away from the Western Wall.

The office of Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi who supervises the Western Wall, said the Emanuel family had planned from the outset to hold the bar mitzvah at the Davidson Center, where - in contrast to the Western Wall - Orthodox customs do not necessarily prevail.

Rabinowitz's office said in a statement that at the Western Wall, "prayers have always been conducted in accordance with Jewish tradition, like Torah reading, which is done on the days on which the Torah is removed [from the Ark], not on other days of the week."

According to tradition, the Torah is read in synagogue only on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and holidays.