The heads of the Reform and Conservative movements will demand that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein investigate the involvement of rabbis on the government payroll in Friday’s violent demonstrations at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
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Thousands of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators showed up at the Western Wall on Friday morning to protest against Women of the Wall, a pluralistic women’s prayer group that holds a monthly prayer service at the wall, in which many of the participants wear prayer shawls and phylacteries. The ultra-Orthodox maintain that these practices are against Jewish law.
The demonstrators jeered at the women as they prayed, some throwing water bottles and chairs in their direction. Dozens of riot police were on hand to separate them from the women’s prayer group and they grew increasingly violent. After the women exited Dung Gate, ultra-Orthodox demonstrators ambushed them with rocks.
“I think it is very clear today who came to worship and who came to create provocations,” Gilad Kariv, the executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, told Haaretz. “The troubling aspect of it all is that the rabbi of the Western Wall and his team, all public officials, were deeply involved in organizing this Haredi protest. We intend to address the matter with the attorney general and have him investigate.”
Yizhar Hess, head of the Masorti-Conservative movement in Israel, said that Shmuel Rabinovitch, the Western Wall rabbi and government appointee, was playing both sides. “In the Knesset, he talks about his support for the Sharansky compromise, but outside, he undermines peace in Jerusalem, as he did today.”
Hess was referring to the proposal drafted by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to set up a new section for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.
Rabinovitch later denied the allegations, saying that he was not involved in organizing the protest and that the accusations are part of an incitement campaign by Women of the Wall. The only connection he had this week with the ultra-Orthodox leader Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman was meant to send a calming message. "I asked that rabbis and Knesset members don't come here," he said, and added: "I feel terrible for what happened here. I did not wish for it, did not expect it and I hope it will not repeat itself."
Rabinovitch said that that the conclusion he draws from the events on Friday morning has to do with a future arrangement being drawn up by Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett. "I wish everybody would regain self-control and find the way to restore what was, that how the Attorney General interpreted the rulings of the High Court will continue," he said, referring to the rules saying that women are prohibited from wearing prayer shawls and reading from the Torah in the central prayer plaza at the Western Wall.
Bennett announced this week that he intends to draft new regulations for prayer at the Wall, in wake of the landmark Jerusalem District Court that it is not a violation of the “local custom” for women to wear prayer shawls at the Kotel.
“If what he means is unilateral legislation,” said Kariv, “then we have no intention whatsoever of continuing to participate in this dialogue around finding a solution to the controversy over prayer at the wall.”
Hess echoed his words. “If Bennett’s intention is to provide a very narrow interpretation of the court ruling, it will turn the whole compromise into an empty vessel,” he said.