The Kotel prayer-space deal leaves Charedim in charge

November 24, 2016 23:19

They were left battered and bruised - but, paradoxically, stronger than ever. That was the state of the Orthodox camp following this week's peace deal in the three-decade battle over who controls the Kotel.

The rabbi of the Western Wall, Charedi politicians, and some Orthodox activists have put a great deal of energy over the years into keeping the practices of Reform, Masorti and Women of the Wall away from the Kotel. And now they have got their way - kind of.

This week's agreement puts an end to the demand of these three groups for rights at the busy prayer site described as the Kotel. In return, they get a new prayer complex in an area that is the Kotel, but not as we know it.

The new complex, presuming the government delivers on its promise, will be next to a bona-fide stretch of Western Wall, but one that is far less well-known and is not a mass-prayer site. From a viewpoint of ancient history, it is glatt-kosher Kotel, but in terms of recent history and cultural consciousness, which can be more powerful, it does not have the same gravitas.

It was not the place where paratroopers wept when capturing the Wall in 1967, and it is not the place that sits in the national imagination when it comes to the Kotel.

With the deal, Reform, Masorti and Women of the Wall are essentially agreeing to use the lesser-known stretch of wall - leaving the Kotel as we think of it today in the hands of the Charedim.

The site's rabbi has been consolidating Charedi power there in recent years, including through modesty inspectors who assess the outfits of female visitors and offer extra items for cover-up.

By moving the non-Orthodox off site, the new agreement recognises the Western Wall as Charedi turf, and paves the way for even stricter Orthodox standards. It is, simultaneously, a riposte to objectors - go to the other section.

On a symbolic level, the deal is a major blow to the Orthodox protagonists in the Kotel battle.

To their dismay, the state is giving their opponents unprecedented recognition, prestige and financial support. As they see it, this weakens the status of Orthodoxy in Israel, and could prove a precedent for further weakening of Orthodox power.

But on the level of territory, the Orthodox are retaining all the turf for prayer that they ever envisaged themselves having, and with greater sovereignty.

November 24, 2016 23:19

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