Progressives slam ‘appalling’ Orthodox bid to disrupt Tisha B’Av prayers
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Progressives slam ‘appalling’ Orthodox bid to disrupt Tisha B’Av prayers

A far-right Orthodox group installed gender segregation barriers at a progressive prayer space at the Western Wall

Michael Daventry is foreign editor of Jewish News

Progressive Jewish leaders condemned ‘appalling’ scenes at the Western Wall this weekend after an Orthodox group forced their way into a progressive prayer space to disrupt Tisha B’Av prayers.

Members of the far-right group Liba arrived with wooden panels in a bid to divide the Masorti men and women who were gathering to mark the fast day, which mourns the destruction of the two Jewish temples in Jerusalem.

The barriers were installed in the egalitarian prayer space, a separate site from the main Western Wall Plaza, where prayers and mourning continued as normal.

Liba members then heckled and cursed women reading aloud from the Book of Lamentations.

Video footage shows Masorti leaders, who also known by the American denomination Conservative, attempting to persuade the group to respect the sanctity of the site.

The barriers were later removed.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, was among those condemning the incident.

“The non-Orthodox streams of Judaism are every bit as legitimate as the Orthodox,” he tweeted. “If Tisha B’Av appalling events at the western wall are not unequivocally condemned by the Israeli government, this latest provocation will only drive a further wedge between Israel and the Diaspora.

The Labour MK Gilav Kariv, a Reform rabbi who was at the scene, tweeted: “For them, I weep. Shouts and curses and then songs of devotion to Jerusalem. This is what senseless hatred looks like under the guise of God’s love.”

It happened a month after a strictly-Orthodox mob tore pages out of progressive Jewish prayer books at the Western Wall last month.

Plans to create a permanent mixed gender prayer space in the Western Wall plaza have been on hold since 2017, when they were frozen by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

It happened after the former prime minister came under intense pressure from strictly-Orthodox parties in his coalition.

But the new coalition led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid is understood to be preparing to revive the plans.

They would see the present gender segregation in the main Western Wall Plaza would be retained, but the existing temporary platform for egalitarian prayer at the southern end of the wall would double in size.

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