Open Orthodox Clergy Weigh in on Battle for the Kosel

Last Wednesday, Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan, Kosel protocol was violated when a group of about 100 Reform and Conservative leaders and their constituents held a protest at the Kosel against the delayed establishment of a large “egalitarian prayer section” as part of the “Kosel Compromise Plan” by bringing Sifrei Torah into the women’s section of the Kosel plaza for a non-Orthodox service held by Women of the Wall.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu rebuked the non-Orthodox protest and service as causing “unnecessary friction” and for “the unilateral violation of the status quo at the Western Wall.”

The “Kosel Compromise Plan” of Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, which calls for the establishment of a large egalitarian prayer area, has been delayed indefinitely due to opposition from various Orthodox organizations, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, and Israeli politicians.

These Israeli politicians are wary of the reaction of Arab states to the Sharansky plan in light of the Waqf (the Islamic authority that oversees the Har Habayis) expressing outrage at the plan, which the Wakf claims will result in further “Judaization” of the Kosel area and will be used by the Israeli government for archeological digs. Concern for mass Arab rage over the construction that the Kosel Compromise Plan may evoke is very real. The plan has also been opposed by Israeli archeologists, who fear that the construction work that the plan would necessitate will impact negatively on important remains from the churban immediately below the envisioned egalitarian prayer area.

The status quo at the Kosel prohibits women from bringing or using Sifrei Torah there, and the recent Rosh Chodesh protest and service breached this status quo.

Now, as could have perhaps been predicted, the non-Orthodox have a new ally in this battle. That ally is Open Orthodoxy. Open Orthodoxy’s clergy organization, called International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF), was founded by Avi Weiss and Marc Angel, the fathers of Open Orthodoxy. The organization admits women “rabbis,” is comprised mainly of graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat, the latter of which ordains women, and has a female “rabbinic” vice president. In a press release the day after the Kosel protest and egalitarian service, IRF stated:

“The International Rabbinic Fellowship is saddened by the continued friction within the Jewish community around the question of non-Orthodox Jews conducting prayer services in accordance with their religious practice in the Western Wall area. This has ramifications beyond local Israeli concerns and impacts on the unity and cohesion of the Jewish people as a whole and its connection to the State of Israel.

“We are in agreement with the recent statement of the Beit Hillel rabbinic organization in Israel that calls upon the government to implement the ‘Kotel Plan’ compromise developed last year by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and approved by the Israeli cabinet in January 2016.

“The plan, which like any compromise can be improved upon (e.g., creating a space for Orthodox women’s groups that do not want to engage in full egalitarian prayer but do want to read from the Torah), is a positive step forward to making the Kotel a public place where all Jews can experience the presence of the Divine according to the dictates of their conscience. As R. Benny Lau stated this week: ‘The Western Wall is not a sectarian property. We must give everyone a sense that it is their home. It is the heart of the Jewish people.’”

For those who are unaware, Beit Hillel is an Israeli far-left self-proclaimed Orthodox organization, led by controversial figures, which issues rulings from the Beit Hillel Beit Midrash. This “beit midrash” includes women. Benny Lau, a Beit Hillel leader, is a major defender of toeivah rights in Israeli society, and this summer he hired for his shul a female assistant spiritual leader (“Rabbanit”), who serves as clergy like a rabbi.

IRF’s statement not only places it at odds with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and so many Torah organizations, but IRF’s call for an added space at the Kosel where Orthodox women can conduct krias haTorah adds even further to the desecration and breach of halacha as ruled by every major rabbinic authority, including those of Modern Orthodoxy.

But there is more to this. The New Israel Fund, which aggressively advocates for the secularization of Israeli society and fights tooth and nail against religious standards and values, recently published a list of the organizations that it funds. Among the list of grantees, which features Reform, Conservative and various left-wing progressive organizations, is Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah, a pluralistic organization that seeks to bring progressive social values into Israeli society under an “Orthodox” banner (such as combating gender-separate religious schools and lobbying for the recognition of “non-traditional” couples), has on its board of governors: Avi Weiss, Marc Angel, Benny Lau, and a broad who’s-who of fringe/Open Orthodox leaders, a great many of whom sit on the YCT and Yeshivat Maharat boards.

In other words, the Beit Hillel/IRF nexus is linked via Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah to the leftist New Israel Fund, which literally provides cash for the Open Orthodox agenda in medinas Yisroel. Open Orthodoxy has joined forces with the worst anti-Torah elements and is on their payroll, as it were.

And there is even more: Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah has just released a video lobbying for the Kosel Compromise Plan featuring Rabbis Shlomo Riskin, Benny Lau and Ronen Lubitsch, the head of Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah. In this video, Rabbi Riskin, who is on the boards of YCT and Yeshivat Maharat, states that Judaism and the Kosel are too precious to be left exclusively in Orthodox hands (!).

As we are about to go to print, Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah has expanded its campaign to provide for non-Orthodox prayer at the Kosel. In a high-profile article in Haaretz, Tehila Nachalon, a member of the Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah board, argues for the provision of non-Orthodox prayer at the Kosel based on the halachic status of Yerushalayim not being the property of any one shevet. Nachalon argues that Reform and Conservative services must be permitted and welcomed at the makom haMikdosh:

“If Jerusalem were to belong to one tribe, one group, it would be incapable of serving its purpose” (!). Jerusalem, and certainly its holy places, does not belong to the ultra-Orthodox nor to the Orthodox nor to any other group within the Jewish people.”

 

We need to speak up and protect the kedushas haKosel and kedushas Yerushalayim from not only the patently non-Orthodox, but from the Open Orthodox as well. It will be a challenge, but we must be clear that Open Orthodox clergy are not Orthodox and that their campaign against Torah is part of an ideological and monetary nexus with non-Orthodoxy. May Hashem help us prevail in this battle for Torah.