Reform and secular groups filed a petition with the High Court Sunday, demanding the removal of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich as Rabbi of the Kotel and the Holy Places.
The petition also requests that authority over the Kotel be removed from the organization, and that a new one be set up to officially “care” for the holy site, one that would be more amenable to the Reform movement's demands that men and women be permitted to worship together at the site. Currently, men and women are permitted to pray together in another part of the Kotel, but the main prayer area is separate, and there is no gender separation in the plaza behind the prayer area.
The petition states that “the Kotel Heritage Center, which manages the site directly, is under the control of hareidim, including representatives of the Chief Rabbinate and individuals in the Religious Affairs Ministry, who are appointed by Orthodox and hareidi elements. These do not reflect the general population of Jews in Israel and the rest of the world, all of whom have a deep connection to the Kotel.”
The petition added that in recent years, there had been more and more regulations added to separate genders at the Kotel. “The Kotel has been turned into a Hareidi prayer area, and non-religious events are almost unknown there now,” the petition added. The Kotel has always been filled with a discernable majority of Orthodox Jewish worshipers, many of whom come each day at dawn, although it is also a central site for tourists
The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel includes hareidi rabbis, but also many well-respected religious Zionist rabbis, all of whom are strongly opposed to chanigng halakhically correct practice at the Kotel. There is no halakhic leniency on the topic of mixed-gender prayers, with the late world-renowned Torah sage Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who lived in the United States and was therefore familiar with Reform and Conservative Judaism, writing vehemently against mixed-gender prayer in his seminal halakhic responsa, the Igrot Moshe (Orach Chayim, 39; 89). He forbade taking part in prayers at places of worships where that was the norm.