How sad and ironic that on the eve of Shavuot, the festival celebrating God’s eternal gift of the Torah to the Jewish people, a woman was detained at the Kotel for carrying a Torah scroll.
The police action was the first time in three years that a leader of Women of the Wall, the feminist Rosh Chodesh prayer group, was taken into custody for alleged violation of prayer restrictions for women at Judaism’s holiest site. It was another indication of backsliding by the authorities in dealing with the longstanding effort of pluralistic Jews to have more access to the site.
As a standoff continues between the Jerusalem government and liberal diaspora Jews over the so-called Kotel compromise, which was heralded as a historic breakthrough earlier this year in allowing prayer access at the Western Wall, a leader of the Reform movement has scolded Prime Minister Netanyahu for “delay and deceit.”
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, America’s largest Jewish denomination, wrote in Haaretz this week that “for every step forward he [Netanyahu] has taken, he has taken two steps backward. Every promise he has made on religious issues has been broken, and every assurance he has given has been rescinded.”
The scathing essay comes after top officials of the Reform and Conservative movements met with the prime minister in Jerusalem last week in an effort to prevent the collapse of the Kotel agreement. The crisis came about when Orthodox parties in the government backed away from previous assurances and threatened to leave the coalition if the compromise was enacted.
The leaders of diaspora Jewry, including federation leaders, are frustrated and angry by this reversal, asserting that the collapse of the compromise would seriously hurt diaspora-Israel relations. But their clout is limited by both the Israeli political system, where diaspora Jews have no vote, and by their deep love of and support for Israel, even when they believe they are being mistreated. As Rabbi Yoffie wrote, “diaspora Jews will not abandon Israel – not now, not ever.”
The prime minister could underscore his longstanding claim that he leads not only the State of Israel but the Jewish people by keeping his promise to unite Jews, especially at the Kotel. Or he could give in to political pressure and further divide the Jews of the diaspora from their brothers and sisters in Israel. In the spirit of Shavuot, the mystical moment that according to tradition brought all Jews — past, present and future — together to receive the Torah, we urge Netanyahu to do the right thing in the name of Klal Yisrael, Jewish peoplehood.