Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Monday dismissed Reform Judaism as a sham of the original religion and branded a recent pluralistic prayer service at the Western Wall, during which Torah scrolls were taken into the women’s section, as a provocation.
Deri addressed the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem after being quizzed by Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern about prayer arrangements at the Western Wall.
“I give up this Judaism,” declared Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, the Hebrew-language Haaretz newspaper reported. “I want the original and give up these imitations.”
Video footage last Wednesday appeared to show at least 100 people joining a march into the Western Wall plaza and the subsequent prayer service. The Israeli Reform movement said in a press release that “dozens” of Torah scrolls were carried into the women’s section, a first at the site, which is under the control of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic establishment.
Scuffles broke out as some ultra-Orthodox onlookers and Western Wall officials lunged for the Torah scrolls carried by the protesters and attempted to physically bar them from entering the prayer area.
“The Reform and Conservative Jews are our brothers, but I have serious differences of opinion with them,” Deri said. “What is the [Western] Wall? The remains of the Temple which we believe and yearn will be rebuilt and we will offer sacrifices there. They don’t believe in that and don’t want it. Provocation. With all due respect, this is not a matter of coming together or distancing, but an ideological dispute.”
“They are causing great damage to Judaism,” Deri added, according to Israel Radio. “What do they want with the Western Wall? They only want to make provocations and separation among the people. They are trying to destroy and devastate the original path in all areas of Judaism.”
In ultra-Orthodox Jewish practice, prayer services are led by men only and women are barred from handling or reading from Torah scrolls.
Following the controversial prayer service at one of Judaism’s holiest sites, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put out a statement chastising liberal movements for holding the event.
“The unfortunate incident this morning at the Western Wall does not help advance a solution for prayer arrangements there,” the prime minister said in a statement released by his office. “The unilateral violation of the status quo at the Western Wall this morning undermines our ongoing efforts to reach a compromise.”
Liberal Jewish groups are protesting the non-implementation of a compromise passed in a January 31 cabinet decision calling for a permanent prayer platform to be built along the southern end of the Western Wall in part of the Davidson Archaeological Park, otherwise known as Robinson’s Arch. There is currently a temporary prayer platform set up there in two distinct areas of the park.
Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers have opposed the compromise, delaying its implementation indefinitely.