There is perhaps no other holy site in Israel that is more emblematic of the Jewish people’s bond with their religion than the Kotel. Ancient stones that have endured for millennia are testament to the eternal link between the Jewish people and their Creator. It is no wonder that the Kotel is the repository of tears and prayers from Jews the world over.
It is also a symbol of the religious character of the Jewish country. Now, as threats to topple Israel’s religious character mount, the urgency surrounding the need for pushback grows. And nowhere is the battle to safeguard the sanctity of Jewish law and tradition more pronounced than at the Kotel.
The Reform and Conservative Movements in the United States have seized upon the rickety Bennet coalition, brimming with anti-Orthodox leftists eager to topple the religious status quo of the country. But they are being met head-on by activists within Israel who have long recognized their danger and have mobilized to confront it.
A discussion with three of these heroes reveals how they are transforming “Save the Kotel” from a slogan into a mission. And how they hope to convince others that the time is now to keep the Kotel “beYadeinu”.
Chaim Rabinowitz worked with United Torah Judaism’s MK Yisroel Eichler in the Knesset for nine years. When the Chareidi parties went into the opposition last June, Rabinowitz drew on his extensive background in politics to work on projects to improve religious life in Israel. Chief among them was the preservation of the Kotel.
“The Reform want recognition,” Rabinowitz insists. “They realize that if they succeed in getting a portion of the Kotel, they will succeed in having control over all the other issues – conversion, marriage, kashrut, Shabbat. Oy lanu if that happens because then we will no longer have zechut for the existence of the state and for the existence of Judaism in the state.”
Rabinowitz also warns of the danger of allowing the Reform to take over jurisdiction of the Ezrat Yisrael from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which is what the Reform have set their sights on. They want to exert their own authority over that area, including control over the budget. “If you give them even one meter,” he says, “tomorrow it will be ten meters.”
What can be done? Educate people. And educate them now. Rabinowitz recommends a massive effort to alert the Chilomin (secular) in Israel to the dangers of the Reform.
“The three million strong Chiloni public does not understand the problem. I’m not talking about the two million Israelis who oppose religion – the Arabs and the anti-religious. But there are more than three million Jews in Israel who are Masorati (traditional). They light candles on Shabbat, make kiddush and then watch soccer. But they are traditional. They come to slichot on Rosh Chodesh Elul. They want to live a Jewish life and they oppose assimilation. If you explain to them that if their mothers and grandmothers are allowed to throw candies at a bar mitzvah at a Kotel section together with men and women, it can cause this bar mitzvah boy to eventually intermarry, they will absolutely refuse.”
Time is of the essence. Rabinowitz advocates an immediate and strong campaign to educate the Chilonim by helping groups like Liba Yehudit and individuals like Mati Dan, who have been tirelessly fighting against threats from the Reform. “They have been organizing demonstrations, conducting research, filing lawsuits, raising awareness all pro bono, and they need our help.”
Liba Yehudit is an Israeli organization founded in 2013 by educators and activists with the mission to strengthen the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. From the sanctity of Shabbat to the sanctity of the family to the sanctity of the Kotel.
Liba Yehudit’s director Oren Honig is candid about the severity of the threat that the Reform movement poses to Israel. “Groups like the Reform want to make our Jewish country into a country for all citizens. If we don’t fight back and involve the public, we will lose our Jewish country. For the Reform, the Kotel is the Archimedean point - the springboard to change the whole country. If their presence at the Kotel is legitimized, they will demand authority over conversion, marriage, kashrut, etc. Reform MK Gilad Kariv and the Reform understand that if they have a foothold in the Kotel they will have control in all of Israel.”
According to Honig, limitless amount of funding has enabled the Reform to gain a stronghold and advance their agenda in Israel’s government, media and Supreme Court. Even in Israel’s education system. “The Reform have infiltrated our education system and have incorporated lesson plans into the Misrad Hachinuch. But the Israeli public is unaware of it.”
The Israeli public, by and large, is also unsuspecting of the Reform’s support for far-left political positions that endanger the security of the State of Israel. “The public does not know that the Reform are aligned with BDS supporters, that they didn’t want ambassadors in a Jerusalem embassy and that they don’t support Israeli sovereignty over Ramat HaGolan. And they support the two-state solution.”
In addition to enlisting feet on the ground, Liba Yehudit conducts extensive lobbying in the Knesset and reviews emerging laws. And it has an ongoing presence in the Israeli courts.
“Six years ago, when the government approved the Kotel Compromise, there was a very big struggle. Ultimately the government decided to abandon the project and the Reform approached the Supreme Court demanding that the law proceed. Liba Yehudit brought many lawsuits against the Reform over a period of years to block any execution of the deal. We sued, saying that this is a religious matter, and as such, the court does not have jurisdiction over it. Furthermore, any activity by the Reform at the Kotel would create a huge disturbance.”
Honig believes these lawsuits were effective. “They succeeded in preventing the Supreme Court from coming to a decision.” However, the threat persists and the Reform are not giving up.
Funding campaigns within Israel is paramount. And it needs to go hand in hand with positive reinforcement. “The Reform keep saying that if the Kotel compromise is not implemented, the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews will suffer. They are lying. The non-Orthodox are not the only Jews in the Diaspora. The Orthodox must speak out and declare that they are also Diaspora Jews and oppose any changes by the Reform.”
That also includes putting pressure on the Bennett coalition, which Honig blames for the current crisis and accuses of “working hard hand in hand with the Reform groups”. When asked if there are any rightwing members of the coalition to be relied on, he replies, “No. We can only rely on two things: on Hakadosh Baruch Hu and on the people of Israel who need to be ready to throw out the government if it touches the Kotel. We must go out to the streets to protest against them.”
As founder and chairman of Ateret Cohanim, Mati Dan has been working since 1977 to build up a Jewish presence in the heart of ancient Yerushalayim. This involvement has heightened Dan’s sensitivity to protecting the sacredness of the Kotel from threats of the Reform Movement and ensure that it remains under halachic domain. “To divide the Kotel is to divide the nation. Every Jew has an obligation to stop the attempt to divide the Kotel and prevent it from having one side with a mechitzah and another side without.”
“What is the Kotel to the Reform?” Dan asks. “Since when did it become a holy place for them? All these years, the Reform opposed returning to Eretz Yisrael. They don’t believe in the Beit Hamikdash. So why do they care about the Kotel now?”
Dan answers his own questions by pointing out that the Reform don’t come to the Kotel to pray. They come only to get recognition. “Behind the Kotel campaign is their desire to start a revolution against everything that is holy in Eretz Yisrael – nissuin, gerushin, giyur… To fight against this, we need to make a wall to save the wall. We must enlist a wall of people who understand the Reform’s intent and are willing to stop it.”
Enlisting such a wall involves strong PR initiative to educate about who the Reform are and what their goals are. “I don’t think there’s sufficient hasbarah. Many Masoratim think that Reform are like them. It’s very misleading because the Reform claim to daven and celebrate the holidays. No one does research to really understand what they are. American Jews understand. They need to be more involved and have a louder voice.”
Realizing the severity of the legal threat, Dan became involved in the fight, largely in the capacity of raising funds for the lawyers. “The courts are largely liberal and they have an agenda. If you don’t sue in court then you lose. You can’t sit quietly and not get involved because then it will snowball. And the judges will say, ‘Apparently it doesn’t bother people. If it really mattered to them, they would rise up and send a hundred lawyers, not one.’”
The 2016 Kotel Compromise initially gave the Reform reason to celebrate, however it was quickly walked back when the Chareidi parties involved recognized the gravity of what was at stake. But while the tug of war over the Kotel has been simmering, the legal war never abated. Now, with the current coalition government heavily influenced by the Reform, that war is boiling over.
But Dan says that the fight is going to back to the Supreme Court. “Even though it is beyond their jurisdiction, each time things end up back in the court we have to fight back. We don’t have the luxury of abandoning the fight because we think we’re already aware of the outcome. If we do this we will lose.”
But the cost involved in hiring lawyers is a huge and ongoing challenge. Over the years, American Jews have helped Mati Dan in this struggle and established an organization called Shomrei Hakotel, designed to accommodate tax exempt donations. But the battle has reached crisis proportions with the relentless pressure from the Bennett government. And Dan is emotional when beseeching American Jews to help and please with them to “put your neshama” into this fight.
“Every Orthodox Jew should budget an amount to help us with this struggle. All of the Kotel is holy and cannot be divided. If Hashem sees that we have mesirus nefesh then we will have Siyata Dishmaya. If we don’t give up, then we will win.”
This is an abridged version of an article that originally appeared in Hamodia.