BLOG 359 July 31, 2017
Think it is hard to make sense out of American politics? Take a hard look at Israel. Even the most ardent evangelical supporters of Israel don’t venture far into the political system that involves many political parties with minority religious groups often swinging majority power. These complications flared up again on June 25 over negotiations about “who could pray where” at Jerusalem’s Western Wall called the Kotel in Hebrew.
I have walked the complete distance of the Western Wall several times with much of it underground. The entire length refers to the entire 1,601 feet retaining wall on the western side of the Temple Mount. The classic portion now faces a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, near the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, while the rest of the wall is concealed underground behind structures in the Muslim Quarter. Touching the opening into the ancient Temple Mount is a spiritually thrilling experience.
The start of religious complications extends back to the beginning of the state of Israel in 1948. Probably with a minimum of reflection, David Ben-Gurion gave the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox the keys to the country and they have dominated ever since while remaining a minority. At the same time, the Jewish Reformed and Conservative Movements were becoming increasingly popular in America and abroad. However, the Orthodox and particularly Ultra-Orthodox consider them outsiders even to the point of seeing them as heretics. The United States almost cannot grasp how intense these tensions and struggles are within Israel.
The Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem with its Haridi and Hasidic population wants no visitors who aren’t in their extreme groups. Don’t go walking through the area without a yamika on your head. Residents have been criticized for attacking police with stones, and other government officials entering the area. They have blocked the streets, or set fire to rubbish to protest non-orthodox visitors. A small, violent, group called “The Sikrikim” of less than 100 families enforce censorship on bookshops, causing over 250,000 NIS damage to a shop that resisted their demands. In April 2015, an IDF officer was attacked by men and women of Mea Shearim who allegedly threatened to kill him, while children blocked his exit. The incident received national attention.
Get the picture?
In January 2016, the government made a decision to establish a third plaza at the Wall (Kotel) for egalitarian prayer services. This decision was hailed by Reformed, Conservative, and Diaspora groups in American and aboard as a step forward. Then, on June 25 the cabinet voted to cancel the agreement. Fireworks went off everywhere! Five days later after intense negotiations with the haridi (ultra-orthodox), Shas and United Torah political parties, and the heads of progressive Jewish movements, a deal was struck that would give the High Court of Justice a period of time to make their own ruling, involving granting non-Orthodox converts recognition.
For the moment, the conflict is on hold.
Are the ultra-Orthodox that strong? Well, Prime Minister Netanyahu backed off for fear they would topple his government… and they could! Next week, we will explore the religious situation inside Israel further.
More to come!