Monday, March 1, 2010

From the Jerusalem Post Blog

Rabbi Wernick explains why the status quo in the Kotel "is not acceptable"

(see 360 degree view of Kotel here.)

Q: Here's the thing: it seems that there aren't enough Israelis willing to invest time and effort in making the Kotel more accessible to groups who do not follow Orthodox custom. If that's the case, why would anyone try to impose on those Israelis who care the most about the place, and visit in much greater numbers than all other groups (namely, the Orthodox) arrangements that will make them uncomfortable?

A: By this same logic we should not have interfered with Soviet law to support Jewish refusniks. We should not be concerned about Dafur. But if Israel is to be truly a Jewish and Democratic state, then we who love it and support it certainly have the right - no, the responsibility - to speak out on issues such as this one.

The issue here is the idea of minority rights. Say that the government did make some changes at the Kotel, and even after those changes were made the majority of the people at the Kotel were ultra-Orthodox. That doesn't mean those changes shouldn't be made. A pluralistic democratic society cannot ignore its minorities and it cannot deny them their rights. Instead, such a society should try to compromise and accommodate everyone as much as possible. In Israel, that means not only Jews who are non ultra-Orthodox, but, among others, women, gays, the handicapped, Arab-Israelis, and Ethiopian immigrants.

But remember that we don't have any idea how many non-ultra-Orthodox Jews would visit the Kotel if it were more welcoming to them. The ultra-Orthodox may go there more than other groups now because they are the only people who feel comfortable there. That doesn't mean that the Kotel has more meaning to them than it does to Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist Jews - it simply means that they daven there more often. (I would also point out that if your only concern is to appease the majority, you should keep in mind that there are more non-ultra-Orthodox than ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Israel).

You also say that implementing non-ultra-Orthodox customs at the Kotel would make the ultra-Orthodox Jews uncomfortable there. Please do not dismiss the level of discomfort other Jews feel when they visit the Kotel now, or the discomfort that keeps other Jews from making that visit in the first place. Israel must take the beliefs, feelings, and customs of every side into consideration. We don't advocate riding roughshod over the ultra-Orthodox. Everyone should feel welcome at the Kotel.

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