Q. Why aren’t the non-Orthodox made to feel welcome at the Western Wall?
A. Last year at Shavu’ot time (1998) there were unpleasant scenes at the Wall when both the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox insisted on their right to do things their way. As with all such incidents, voices were raised, tempers became heated, and everyone’s dignity suffered. The non-Orthodox admit that they would not enter an Orthodox synagogue as a group and defy its Orthodox principles and procedures, but they say, “The Wall is not a synagogue. It is a Jewish national possession, part of the history of all of us. Why can we not be ourselves there?”
I understand what they are saying but I cannot agree with them. The Wall is not a synagogue, true; but it is more than a synagogue. It is a sacred place - not because there is sanctity in mere stones and crannies, but because it specially evokes the eternal spirit of the Divine Presence. Yes, the charedim are not the only ones who sense and live in the Divine Presence, but the proprieties of dress, separation of the sexes, and traditional worship that they insist upon at the Wall cannot be pushed aside as if they were nothing.
I ask: if you follow the rules when you enter a court, a theatre, a parliamentary chamber, even though some people find these rules somewhat archaic, why can a visitor to the Western Wall also not accept that there are certain ways in which a person behaves there? And further: what “religious” purpose is served by turning what should be a quiet, pious moment of reflection at the Wall into a provocative demonstration?
No, I do not excuse the minority of charedim who tend to boil up too often and too heatedly, but some sensitivity and respect towards their principles would not come amiss.