On Tuesday morning, police interrupted prayers at the Kotel. Three women from the organization Women of the Wall were detained and questioned for practicing Judaism in our faith’s holiest city, at our faith’s holiest site. According to Knesset Bill 1924, passed in 2001, “no ceremony shall be held in the Wall’s women’s section,” which includes reading from the Torah or wearing a talit. A male police officer went so far as to rearrange a worshipper’s talit, so it lay more as a scarf than as an instrument of prayer, while she was praying. This raises once again the question of what it means to freely practice religion in this country, whether all people are allowed to pray in a way they find meaningful or whether only one kind of Judaism is allowed in the Jewish State.
The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel doesn’t specify Judaism, Islam, or Christianity, or any of the myriad other faiths practiced openly and proudly in this country in its guarantee of freedom of religion. It should go without saying, then, that any subdivision of these faiths is also protected. Why, then, have we allowed the Kotel to become a synagogue for the ultra-Orthodox? A site holy to every Jew, the Kotel should be a place where any Jewish person, regardless of his or her level of observance, should feel welcome. Every Jew should feel as if he or she is coming home, or for what other reason were so many lives sacrificed to liberate the Old City 45 years ago?
Israel becomes an unnecessary and divisive dichotomy by, on one hand, being a progressive enough country to host the world’s Best Gay City and, on the other, allowing the dictatorship of the ultra-Orthodox in the practice of our faith.Israel is deeply embroiled in a debate as to how to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into mainstream Israeli culture. That means learning to live side-by-side with them, by learning to respect their needs and by helping them understand ours.
Whether a Jew prays at a synagogue with a female rabbi or at a synagogue with a mechitzah, or never attends synagogue at all, he or she should have the right to pray at Judaism’s holiest site in a personally fulfilling way. This nation was founded to provide a home for the Jewish people and in order to stay true to that, we have to allow the Kotel to be more open and welcoming, more accepting of the ways our ancient faith has evolved, and of the reality that Judaism means different things for different people. To stay true to our democratic values and to our vision of a Jewish State, we have to guarantee that every Jew can pray at the Kotel.