God’s rumbling: Israeli lawmaker links quake with plans for Western Wall mixed-gender prayer area
An ultra-Orthodox MP has said the less-strict adherents of Judaism are “not Jews” and claimed a recent earthquake in Israel was a divine warning not to establish a mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall.
During a heated debate at the Knesset on Wednesday, Yinon Azoulay, from the ultra-Orthodox party Shas, alluded to higher powers to support his position: “Today we heard there was some sort of earthquake. Perhaps we should consider that this earthquake was because someone is trying to get at what is holy to us.”
He was referring to a series of minor tremors in the Haifa area on Wednesday, the Times of Israel reported. The issue on the line is a thorny one, as often happens with religious views.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews have strict views on who should be allowed to pray at the Western Wall, the holiest site of Judaism. Views which exclude women. The position is objected to by many others in Israel, for example, members of the Women of the Wall organization, who insist they should be allowed to worship God just like the men do.
In early 2016, a compromise solution was reached in the Israeli government, which said a permanent mixed-gender area would be erected near the wall to replace an existing temporary one. It was embraced by the liberal part of the Israeli society, but met with condemnation from the most conservative.
Pressured by ultra-Orthodox supporters of his allies in the government coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze the implementation of the decision last summer, but stopped short of cancelling it.
During the discussion in the Knesset, Azoulay, who is son of Israel’s incumbent Minister for Religious Services, David Azulay, lashed out against the supporters of the mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall, which is also called the Kotel.
“They aren’t Jews,” the MP said about the Reform and Conservative Jews campaigning for implementing the compromise. “What do you care about antiquities and the stones of the Kotel? Take the money you are investing in the country and build yourselves a Western Wall in the US.”
Earlier on Tuesday the Israeli parliament voted to appoint Netanyahu the new head of a commission on the mixed-gender prayer area. He replaced Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who stepped down last week saying her conscience did not allow her to head the committee.
“In the past months I have been torn,” she wrote on Facebook. “My conscience would not let me rest. I could not approve the Western Wall plan in a manner that would upset the status quo. The Reform Movement’s demand to turn the Wall into a place where men and women pray together is unacceptable to me or to Jewish tradition.”
The minster, who is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, earlier supported the compromise, voting for it in 2016 and previously giving statements in its favor. Critics accused Regev of caving in to ultra-Orthodox pressure.