Ambassador Oren wants Further Compromise for Women of the Wall

Michael Oren, Israeli envoy to the US, left diplomacy behind and said he is for change in the status quo for women at the Kotel. Others disagree.

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Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, | updated: 19:43

Men and women at Western Wall (Kotel)
Men and women at Western Wall (Kotel)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to the United States, told the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in Dallas this week that he thinks that the recent disruption at the Western Wall (Kotel) by a woman wearing a prayer shawl and demanding a Torah scroll for prayers will require further compromise.

Women and men pray separately and in accordance with Orthodox tradition at the Western Wall, once known as the Wailing Wall during the period when Jews were only allowed there on the Ninth of Av, the day they wept for the destruction of the Holy Temples. They are, however, within hearing and eyesight of one another.

Responding to a question about a woman's arrest in November for causing a disturbance by trying to change long-standing Orthodox tradition at the Western Wall, Oren stated, "I will only assure you that I think there are good solutions for the problems at the Kotel... And that at the end of the day, it will require compromise on everyone's behalf." At the time, a reform Rabbi had complained to the ambassador about "religious persecution".

The report was carried by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, heavily funded by the Jewish Agency and which often promotes the agenda of Conservative Jews. Oren grew up in the United States, was active in the Conservative movement and also attended Reform temples.

In 1989, a group of women came to the Wall on the first day of a new month (Rosh Chodesh), donned phylacteries, prayer shawls and skullcaps, chanted prayers aloud  and read from the Torah, causing a strong, negative reaction from the regular prayergoers at the holy site. Calling themselves "The Women of the Wall", they fought a battle in the courts to be allowed to change the traditional way prayers were held at the wall at their once a month prayer meet. In 2003, the courts ruled that they may chant and read from the Torah at another part of the Wall, known as Robinson's Arch, out of sight and hearing of other prayer services. Since that ruling, every so often, on a Rosh Chodesh, members of the group try to read the Torah and chant at the former prayer area instead of Robinson's Arch, causing disruptions and police intervention.  

Israel National News asked the Foreign Ministry why the ambassador to a foreign country made public comments on accepted religious practices at the Western Wall, but no one was available to answer.

The real women of the wall
INN turned to the site's newseditor, Rachel Sylvetsky, who was chairperson of Emunah Israel, the Religious Zionist Women's Organization, during the abovementioned period of litigation, for her response to the Women of the Wall. "The real Women of the Wall are the Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox women who come there every day, pray through the nights, bring their sorrows and supplications to the Almighty at the Wall. They don't come just once a month, but every day of the year and their rights have to be respected. I went to meet the Women of the Wall group at the kotel during the controversial period to hear their claims and that is what I told them." 

"Anyway, as of 2003,", she added, "a compromise solution exists. Robinson's Arch is just as holy as the rest of the Wall, which is not part of the Holy Temple but part of its surrounding wall. Emunah women go to a different area called the 'little kotel' on Rosh Chodesh because we want people to pray there as well as the conventional area."

'Inclusion' of NIF
Oren (pictured) told the Los Angeles Jewish Journal earlier this month, explaining his approach: “I want to reach out to those parts of the Jewish community, especially the young American Jewish community, that have grown distant from Israel.”

He also specifically included the controversial New Israel Fund, a group that has funded several pro-Arab organizations that are blatantly anti-Israel and which provided the biased information for the Goldstone Report that accused Israel of committing war crimes in the war against Hamas terrorism. A Knesset committee is checking the financial sources of the fund.

“One of the first things I did when I took office is meet with New Israel Fund,” Oren told the Journal. “They were in my office. I want to be as inclusive as possible. With that, I also have to uphold what I see as Israel’s essential security interests. It’s a bit of a balancing act." 

“And I thought coming myself from an American Jewish background, having gone to a Conservative synagogue and a Reform synagogue, that I would be a natural nexus between Israel and the American Jewish community…With the American Jewish community, I’ve been surprised by the complexity of it.”