A top ultra-Orthodox lawmaker defended his opposition to an agreement that would have created an official pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall, saying Monday the move would have harmed Jewish unity and decrying Reform Judaism, which had pushed for the solution.
In a statement seen as a conciliatory gesture, Shas leader Aryeh Deri called Reform Jews his “brothers” but derided the approach of them and other liberal Jewish streams.
“We have nothing against Jews in any place they may be. They are all our brothers. Our fight is against the approach, this ideology which is attempting to bring a new Judaism here, is trying to destroy everything that we built here over the years,” Deri said at the start of the weekly faction meeting of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
Deri’s comments, which differed in tone from those of some other ultra-Orthodox lawmakers who harshly criticized Reform Jews, came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bowed to ultra-Orthodox pressure and froze a compromise deal that would have created an adjacent official space where non-Orthodox Jews could pray at the holy site.
Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, who want to see an Orthodox status quo at the Jerusalem site maintained, had opposed the deal.
The Shas leader indicated he thought it was doubtful that a new compromise would be reached on the Western Wall pavilion for non-Orthodox Jews, saying the cabinet would discuss a new plan if those tasked with doing so “even present an alternate solution.”
Deri, who serves as interior minister, said dividing the Western Wall “destroys Jewish unity.”
“Every Jew in the world, and non-Jews, can come pray there,” he said.
But alluding to the fact that many of the loudest voices pushing for the space had been from the Diaspora, he added that “we will not allow anyone from abroad to come here and try and manage us and divide and destroy everything we’ve built here for 70 years.”
On Sunday, the government suspended a plan it had previously approved for a pluralistic prayer area, following calls by Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition allies to scrap the deal. The plan would have seen the establishment of a properly prepared pavilion for pluralistic prayer — as opposed to current temporary arrangements — under joint oversight by members of all major streams of Judaism.
The reversal was immediately condemned by liberal Jewish groups around the world and by the Jewish Agency, whose chairman Natan Sharansky was intimately involved in making the deal.
Since the decision, the Jewish Agency canceled a dinner with Netanyahu and passed a resolution calling on the Israeli government to rescind its decision to halt the creation of a pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall, saying that the government’s move contradicts the vision of Israel’s founding fathers and the spirit of Zionism.
Deri blamed non-Orthodox Jews pushing for the deal of attempting to bring down the government, describing it as a political ploy all along.
“Unfortunately, there was an attempt here to dismantle the government,” he said. “An attempt to topple the right-wing government.
MK Moshe Gafni, from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction, which also opposed the deal, accusing Reform Jews of shedding crocodile tears over Sunday’s decision to suspend the government-approved plan to establish an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.
“The cries of the Reform Jews are like the man who murdered his father and asks for leniency because he’s an orphan,” Gafni said.
Speaking with Army Radio, MK Menachem Eliezer Mozes (UTJ) accused Reform Jews of “counterfeiting Judaism” and inventing their own traditions not in line with Jewish law.
“This is Judaism? I suggest you please open the internet [and] Google ‘bark mitzvah,'” he said, referring to the practice among some Jews of holding coming-of-age ceremonies for their canines.
“Look at what is happening. Reform Jews are having bar mitzvahs for dogs in the US.”
Mozes and Gafni’s comments came after Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, also of the UTJ, praised the cabinet decision on Sunday, saying that it “sends a clear message to the entire world that Reform Judaism do not and will not have access or recognition at the Western Wall.”
Despite the harsh tone adopted by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau on Monday chastised what he called “marginal elements” for trying to create strife around the Western Wall, “the only remainder of the Temple which was destroyed because of internecine hatred.”
The wall is the last remnant of the Second Temple complex, destroyed some 2,000 years ago, and is considered the holiest place Jews can pray.
Addressing “all Jews of the world” via the right-wing Israel National News site, he said that the Western Wall “belongs to all of us” and that everyone was invited to pray there, “Jews and those who are not Jews, Jews from different places and backgrounds.. everyone can come because this place is everyone’s to pray at,” he said.
Without going into any detail as to where and how the different streams of Judaism should pray at the wall, he called on people not to “waste energy on arguments, quarrels, especially not around such a holy place.” and called for prayer that respected one another.”
“Let’s pray in a way that respects one another, let’s stand and pray together, because we are one people,” he added.