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The Right to Pray

May 22, 2013
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Women of the "Women of the Wall" organization wear prayer shawls as they pray at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in Jerusalem on Feb. 11.
Opponents of a compromise plan to allow egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem are trying to bully their way to victory. Their tactics won’t work, and it’s incumbent upon all of us — here and in Israel — to do what we can to ensure that sanity prevails.
Just six weeks ago, Natan Sharansky unveiled his proposal to create a new prayer section at the Western Wall to allow for egalitarian services. His plan, accepted by the Israeli government, was a compromise negotiated by various parties seeking to end increasing tensions over non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel. 
But legitimate and inevitable debate over the plan rapidly turned ugly. On May 10, thousands of haredi, or fervently Orthodox, Jews jeered, spit and threw rocks at 400 Women of the Wall as they gathered for their monthly prayers to celebrate the new Jewish month. 
And this week, threatening graffiti was spray-painted on the Jerusalem home of a longtime board member of Women of the Wall, according to media reports. Some of the graffiti sprayed on the door and stairwell of Peggy Cidor’s apartment read in Hebrew: “Women of the Wall are wicked,” “Peggy, your time is up,” “Peggy, we know where you live” and “Jerusalem is holy,” reports said. 
The rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, rightly condemned the action. He called on “all fanatic groups to remove their hands from this holy place.”
“I have warned against the conflagration and gratuitous hatred,” said Rabinowitz, who has voiced his support for Sharansky’s plan. “I pray and hope we can check the escalation and that a solution will be found that allows the Western Wall to remain not as a disputed area but as holy ground that unites and unifies.”
Rabinowitz, an Orthodox rabbi, is sounding the voice of reason in this difficult quest to satisfy all who seek equal access to Judaism’s holiest site. There is no place for fanaticism as competing visions work toward a solution that is fair to all.
Such violence is unacceptable and all the more despicable coming a week after Shavuot, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah and our true beginnings as one people. 
The plan deserves support from the American Jewish community. Even with the recent Israeli court decision granting women the right to read Torah and pray as they wish at the Kotel, Sharansky’s plan should be pursued.
With the Israeli government’s backing, it represents a historic victory for religious pluralism in Israel. That is something to celebrate, not foil.

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