'Nobody's telling the Orthodox to be less so'

Speaking to Arutz Sheva, Conservative Movement Head blasts UNESCO, misses the point of gender separation in Orthodox synagogues.

Yoni Kempinski,

Rabbi Steven Wernick
Rabbi Steven Wernick
Yoni Kempinski

Arutz Sheva spoke with Rabbi Steven Wernick, the Head of the United Synagogue of the Conservative Movement, who is in Israel as part of the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors visit to the Knesset.

"I always think it's significant to be in the Knesset. This is the people's house of the State of Israel and [...] the house of the Jewish people," Wernick noted on the occasion of his visit.

Wernick tied the absurdity of UNESCO's recent resolutions denying the Jewish connection to the Western Wall to the current efforts of the Reform and Conservative movements for an "egalitarian" prayer section in the Western Wall plaza.

"The UNESCO resolution is obviously ridiculous; it turns a blind eye to history, and even the entire conversation of the Reform, Conservative, The Movement of the Wall [sic] with the government over the expansion of the wall as 'one wall for one people' - we do that because of our historic ties to Jerusalem."

Wernick went on to assert the need for an egalitarian prayer space at the Wall.

"We live in an age where women can be CEOs of Fortune-500 companies, Supreme Court justices, Head of the Knesset, Prime Minister - but can’t have an aliyah to the Torah. We’re about to possibly see the first woman President of the US [...] I think what changed [in the past 20 years] was a modern understanding of pluralism and egalitarianism which seems to have taken hold in most countries where Jews live, other than here, in the State of Israel."

In halakhic Judaism, however, what is called "egalitarian prayer" is not a matter of equal rights for women, as all people are considered equal before God and Orthodox women have careers which are as successful as other women's, because there is no connection between having a career and having an aliyah to the Torah. Gender separation in the Orthodox synagogue exists to help worshipers concentrate on devotion to G-d and put all thoughts of the other sex aside. Prayer is not a family experience in the Orthodox synagogue, it is a personal one, and modern Orthodox rabbis such as the late Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein of the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva, came out strongly against "partnership" and "egalitarian" prayer services or minyans.

When asked what his message was to Orthodox Jews deterred by Reform and Conservative efforts to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, Wernick said: "There's nobody asking the haredi to be less orthodox...the beauty of the agreement we made is that it accommodates everyone at our most sacred site and, barring implementation, we will continue to advocate for the right of all Jews to pray according to their customs at the Western Wall."

More Arutz Sheva videos: