a boy cradles a Torah scroll in front of the wall
A bar mitzvah boy at the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Photo/Yonatan Sindel-Israel Ministry of Tourism)

What right have liberal Jews to insist on changes at the Kotel?

The J. editorialized that the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to suspend the Kotel deal “was an especially egregious slap in the face” to diaspora Jews from liberal denominations and “just plain wrong.” But consider this from a different perspective.

For Orthodox Jews, the destroyed Temple remains the focal point for the relationship with God, and Temple ritual forms the pattern for prayer. Morning Shacharit and afternoon Mincha prayer services substitute for the sacrificial services in the Temple at those times of day, and on Shabbat, the Musaf service is added to substitute for the extra animal sacrifice on Shabbat. Three times a day, every single day, Orthodox Jews pray for restoration of the Temple. On Tisha B’Av, the Orthodox fast in mourning for the destruction of the Temple.

In contrast, Reform Judaism was founded in large part on the rejection of the Temple as the central focus of ritual and prayer. Animal sacrifice, the priestly caste, and the Temple as an object of worship were rejected as anachronisms. References to the Temple were excised from prayer.

Given this rejection of the Temple by these new denominations, it is inappropriate for them to insist that observance at the Temple site be changed to accommodate them and their new practices. You wouldn’t walk into a Christian church and insist they take down their cross. Nor would you walk into an Orthodox synagogue and insist they take down the mechitza and use a reform prayerbook. So why should liberal denominations think they are entitled to do this at the Temple site?

Alan Titus,
San Francisco

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