2016-03-16 / Voice at the Shore

Weis plays part in shaping creation of Kotel’s official new egalitarian area

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


In 2014, Rabbi David Weis (at left of Torah scroll) performed the Bat Mitzvah of Madison Hafetz in the Robinson’s Arch area of the Kotel, which has long been unofficially used for egalitarian worship. In 2014, Rabbi David Weis (at left of Torah scroll) performed the Bat Mitzvah of Madison Hafetz in the Robinson’s Arch area of the Kotel, which has long been unofficially used for egalitarian worship. Rabbi David Weis of Congregation Beth Israel was among the rabbis that helped Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., come up with Israel’s recent groundbreaking plan to create a government sanctioned egalitarian section of the Kotel at Robinson’s Arch, an area that was already unofficially used for this purpose, according to an article published in the Jerusalem Post.

According to the Feb. 6 Jerusalem Post article, “The Kotel compromise defused a strategic threat to U.S.-Israel relationship.” Weis was one of a number of American rabbis whose views influenced Oren’s thinking.

“With the help of rabbis amenable to the ‘Solomonic solution to divide the Kotel,’ as Oren called it, including prominent Conservative rabbis Jack Moline and Stuart Weinblatt, and Reform rabbis Arnie Gluck and David Weis, Oren built a consensus in favor of Robinson’s Arch,” the Post reported.

Weis said that for many years he has done Bat Mitzvahs for congregants visiting Israel in the Robinson’s Arch area, which is on the southern end of the wall and is separated from the Orthodox-controlled worship areas. By the terms of the recent compromise, the Robinson’s Arch area will be expanded, staffed and furnished with government-supplied Torahs. The Post said that the completion of this section would likely take several years.

According to Weis, American Jews were generally much more concerned about having an officially-sanctioned egalitarian area at the Wall than Israelis were. “Most Israelis didn’t see this as a big deal. They felt that people had a place [for egalitarian worship]; who cares if it’s officially sanctioned?”

But for American Jews, the lack of an official egalitarian area at the Kotel sent the message that Israel did not embrace all forms of Judaism, just Orthodoxy, said

Weis.

Weis and other American rabbis helped Oren understand “why the official sanction was important to American Jews,” he noted, adding, “Michael Oren and I have been friends for years. He is a brilliant historian and author, and was a visiting scholar at Beth Israel even before he was an ambassador.”

Weis acknowledged that the new plan is less than what was hoped for.

“Would I have preferred [the egalitarian section] being in the official Kotel plaza? Yes. It’s not everything we wanted, but it’s a significant first step and we applaud and commend the Israeli government for sanctioning our legitimate presence,” said Weis.

“I really want to commend the non-Orthodox presence in Israel, the Women of the Wall, and the Reform and Conservative Movement in Israel, for being vigilant and diligent and determined,” he added. “These people pushed, through peaceful disobedience and through the court system, and they never quit.” .

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