Regev Responds


The Lesson Ram Emmanuel Learned in the Holy Land

Haredim control the area around the Kotel (Western Wall), and anyone whose Judaism is a little different cannot celebrate his Bar Mitzvah there except in the way that they dictate. The White House Chief of Staff got an illustration of the violation of the freedom of religion in Israel.

Ram Emmanuel at the KotelRam Emmanuel at the Kotel

Ram Emmanuel visited the Western Wall last week, stuck a note into the stones and shed a tear, as have so many Jews from the United States and the rest of the world, who identify the Western Wall with the rich history of the Jewish people in its own land, and who see in it the link between the glory of the past, the pain of the destruction of the temple, and hope for the future. Much has been written about this, but not about the fact that his trip to Israel was in principle supposed to be about celebrating his son's bar mitzvah and that the ceremony for it had to take place "over the fence", in the Robinson Arch area, and not in the Western Wall precinct itself.

Like most Jews in the U.S. and the world, even if they are not yet conscious of it, the White House Chief of Staff, Ram Emmanuel, learned that in Israel he is considered a second-class Jew. For most of the world's Jews it is clear that such an important ceremony in the life cycle of a Jew should be celebrated in a circle of friends and family, both women and men. That's how they do it in their synagogues, Reform and Conservative, which constitute the majority of the Jewish people who identify with religious tradition.

But Emmanuel, his friends and family, with the rabbi of the conservative congregation to which he belongs, were forced to make do with the Robinson Arch, since under government protection and in opposition to the will of the Jewish people in Israel and abroad, control of the Kotel has been given to haredi extremists, who are not willing to recognize the possibility that non-orthodox families and congregations might pray as a group in the Western Wall compound. Only those who are willing to bend to their dictates, and prevent the bar mitzvah youth's mother, sisters, female relatives and friends from being able to participate in the event, can pass through their gates.

The women find themselves pushed beyond the separation fence, supposedly "in aid of the women", climbing on chairs and tables and straining their ears in order to be able to watch the ceremony and hear the bar mitzvah boy on his special day. I respect people whose faith and way of life are like this. It is not the way of the majority of Jews in the modern age.

The only democracy on the list

It is clear that the Emmanuel family is not prepared to bend to these dictates, and it's a good thing. Emmanuel received a living illustration of the detailed and worrying report of the American State Department, which names Israel as one of the 30 states in the world in which the violation of freedom of religion arouses

Ram Emmanuel, learned that in Israel he is considered a second-class Jew

particular concern. Israel has the dubious honor of being the only democracy on this list.

The Western Wall rabbi has already prevented the participation of women soldiers in the IDF ceremonies taking place at the site, and absolutely forbidden the holding there of reception ceremonies by the Jewish Agency for new immigrants the day of their arrival in Israel. Recently, there have been incidents in which the ushers on their own initiative announced a separation between men and women on bus lines going to and from the Western Wall. The height of the mehitsa (screen) has been increased and the separation between the sexes made more stringent along the approach to the entrance gates of the Western Wall precinct.

It is important that Emmanuel and his companions brought up this subject in their discussions with the secular Israeli leadership, which has always given in to the dictates of the haredim.In bringing it up, they expressed not only the outlook of the West but also the will of the majority of the Jewish people, who want a democratic Jewish state, and not a softer version of Teheran. Like when the haredi establishment controlling the Kotel adopted the Muslim burqa in the form of a repulsive rag forced on women visiting the precinct, which is meant to cover the exposed limbs of their bodies, in order not to offend the sensitivities of the haredi lords of the Western Wall.

It's doubtful whether the paratroopers who liberated the Western Wall could conceive that one day it would go from being a national site to a haredi synagogue. This was not the reason they shed tears and risked their lives in the battle for Jerusalem.

A survey of religion and the state by Hiddush shows that about 60% of the Jewish public in Israel (and 84% of the secular population) are convinced that the Western Wall rabbi's policy of separation between men and women makes it into a haredi site and distances it from the Jewish people, and rejects the assertion by the religious establishment that this policy preserves the sanctity of the place.

Hopefully this additional example of insult and offense caused by giving control of national sites to haredi extremists will increase awareness of the need to fundamentally change this policy. The majority of the public wants the implementation of protection provided in Israel's Declaration of Independence for the freedom of religion and conscience. Now the whole world is watching in shame. If the political system does not pull itself together and restrain the fanaticism in time, it will spread from the Western Wall to all of Israel like fire in a field of brambles. The day is not far off when the world will also understand that in Israel we might have democracy, but it doesn't give us religious freedom.


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