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April 25, 2013

Why Today’s Western Wall Court Decision is a Blessing, a Problem, and a Blessing

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/why_todays_western_wall_court_decision_is_a_blessing_a_problem_and_a_blessi/

Photo

Anat Hoffman, photo by Reuters

Three days ago, I wrote an article for IHT-NYT on Women of the Wall, one in which I shared with the readers my usual plea for compromise and, more specifically, for implementing the Sharansky plan (if you aren’t familiar with it, you can read about it here, here and here):

Sharansky’s deal, almost finalized, is a measured compromise with a grain of irony. To accommodate American Jews’ liberal leanings he brokered a “separate but equal” arrangement: The area near the wall where visitors can worship  will be expanded to include a new section in which WoW — and all other Jews wanting to avoid strict Orthodox custom — can pray as they wish. Women will be able to wear a prayer shawl without being detained by the police; men and women will be able to mix, pray and celebrate together.

From the view of the women’s movement, this is both good politics and good policy. Good politics because the burden now shifts to the Israeli government, which will have to prove that it is serious about implementing the deal. And good policy because it achieves three goals: Jews of all stripes will now have a place at the Kotel; an ugly clash between the Orthodox and other Jews has been avoided; and relations between Israel and the wider world of religious-but-not-Orthodox Jews will improve.

This was true three days ago, but life may have become a little bit more complicated by a court decision today:

Police say the women, who pray at the wall once a month and are fighting for acceptance of liberal Jewish custom there, are violating a 2003 Supreme Court decision barring them from wearing prayer shawls and reading from the Torah because those actions deviate from the Orthodox “tradition of the site,” upset other worshipers and cause disturbances.

The new ruling, however, said that Supreme Court decision… “is not phrased as an order directed at the Women of the Wall, but as a recommendation,” Sobel wrote in the decision, and the ruling “did not ban the Women of the Wall from praying in any particular place.”

This decision is: A. a blessing, and B. a problem (and it can still be overturned by the Supreme Court).

It is a blessing because it recognizes the absurdity of the current state of affairs, and takes away the power to decide what “Jewish practice” is from the hands of strict rabbis. It is a problem as it emboldens the initial claim of WOW, and might lead them into reconsidering their acceptance of the Sharansky plan (if they can pray at the existing plaza, why move to a new plaza?).

But then again, it is a blessing, as it puts the government on notice: If it doesn’t act quickly and decisively to demonstrate its seriousness about the Sharansky plan, the court might force it into a less convenient arrangement – into having to send the police to guard WOW whenever they feel the urge to pray near the Kotel.

This issue is far from settled.

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