Following Complaint, Senior Rabbinical Judge Backs Out of Event to ‘Reclaim’ Western Wall From Conservative, Reform Jews

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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FILE PHOTO: Clashes between ultra-Orthodox rabbis and Conservative and Reform activists at the Western Wall, November 2, 2016.
FILE PHOTO: Clashes between ultra-Orthodox rabbis and Conservative and Reform activists at the Western Wall, November 2, 2016. Credit: Emil Salman
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Just hours after a complaint was filed against him on Sunday for professional misconduct, a prominent Israeli rabbinical court judge withdrew his participation in an event organized by a far-right group dedicated to ‘reclaiming’ the Western Wall from the non-Orthodox Jewish movements.

Rabbi Eliezer Igra, a judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Israel, had been scheduled to lead two prayer services on Monday afternoon and evening, as well as deliver a sermon, at a special Passover event organized by a relatively new organization called Save Our Kotel. According to its website, Save Our Kotel has vowed to fight any attempts to hand over part of the Jewish holy site to the non-Orthodox movements and to allow women to pray at the Western Wall wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries.

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The driving force behind this group is Mati Dan, the founder of Ateret Cohanim, a religious, right-wing organization dedicated to “Judaizing” the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City by buying up property there.

Rabbi Eliezer Igra.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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The group regularly organizes services at the area of the Western Wall earmarked for egalitarian prayer, bringing its own mechitza, or barrier, to separate men from women there. Leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements have complained that this is an infringement of their territory since Orthodox Jews already have a segregated prayer plaza of their own on the northern side of the site.

Save Our Kotel will be holding daily prayers during the interim days of Passover in the egalitarian prayer section, which is located at the southern expanse of the Western Wall. Igra’s name appeared on the poster advertising the special holiday event, which said: “We will all gather together for prayer at the southern expanse of the Western Wall to preserve unity and the sanctity of the remnants of our Temple.”

The posters were advertised on social media and on bulletin boards around Jerusalem.

FILE PHOTO: Joint prayer of women and men at the Western Wall, with ultra-Orthodox activists trying to to prevent it, June 16, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

Leaders of the Conservative movement in Israel filed a complaint against Igra with the Ombudsman of the Israeli Judiciary, copies of which were also sent to the offices of the State Comptroller and the Attorney General. The complaint noted that the event in question was not an “innocent” prayer service but rather “a demonstration disguised as prayer.” By participating in the event, the Conservative movement leaders charged, Igra would be taking sides in a battle still pending in the Supreme Court and compromising the neutrality required of him as a judge, rabbinical or other.

When asked for comment early in the day, a spokesman for the rabbinical courts said none would be forthcoming because of the Passover holiday. An hour and a half later, the spokesman amended his original response to say that Igra would not be participating in the event.

Igra also serves as head of the rabbinical court in Beersheba and was a candidate for chief rabbi of Israel.

Another rabbi scheduled to lead services at the Save Our Kotel Passover event is Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, head of the school of Talmudic studies at Yeshiva University in New York. Because Yeshiva University is widely considered to be a beacon of Modern Orthodoxy, Goldwicht’s association with the radical group has sparked surprise in progressive religious circles.

Rabbi Noa Sattath, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, trying to bring a Torah scroll into the Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel, 2018. Credit: Israel Religious Action Center

Yeshiva University did not respond to a request for comment.

In January 2016, the Israeli government approved a plan that would have expanded and improved the existing egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, while granting official recognition to the Reform and Conservative movements at the site. Under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended the deal a year-and-a-half-later. The Reform and Conservative movement – as well as Women of the Wall, the feminist prayer group – have petitioned the Supreme Court to force the government to implement the deal. Under the deal, Women of the Wall would have moved its monthly prayer service from the women’s section of the Western Wall to the egalitarian prayer space.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for September.