Take Back the Kotel Part II: Give Us Robinson’s Arch!
We’ve talked about problems at the Kotel before, and the incident of a woman putting a tallit on and being arrested – or “detained” – for that mitzvah has certainly raised awareness that something has to be done. Rabbi Helbraun, a Reform rabbi in Northbrook, IL, put it well when he asked Effy Eitam how they could explain to the children of their shul that while they encourage boys and girls to put on tallitot and t’fillin – in this Reform shul! – they need to know that they can be arrested for doing so in the Jewish state! But I want to suggest an easy solution to the issues at the Kotel: Open up the Robinson’s Arch area of the Kotel for free to all who want to pray there, celebrate there, even just to meditate there.
Robinson’s Arch is a dramatic part of the Western Wall – actually the southern part of the Kotel Hama’aravi – as opposed to the “other” wall area, the Western Wall plaza, which is the south-central part of the Kotel Hama’aravi. It was excavated since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, and I remember they were working on it forever in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Now it is part of the Davidson Center – a museum that charges money for entry, unless special arrangements are made. I am not asking for free admission to the wonderful exhibits underground that are uniquely part of the this museum. What I am calling for is for free, 24 hour access by anyone who wants, to the above ground parts of the Wall. It is our national heritage, and we should not be denied access. We have a right to the Western wall and the Southern wall which the area includes as well.
Sources tell me that the Masorati movement, the Conservative movement in Israel, has rights to it – I’m not sure, but that’s what I’ve heard from a few sources. Maybe the Israel antiquities authority has some control over it. However, to the best of my knowledge the Rabbinate or Religious authority of the Kotel does NOT have control over it. That’s why now, people can have B’nai Mitzvas there however they daven, and women can read Torah there. But that is only in limited ways, and I have heard that you can’t bring tables or chairs there – everything that makes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in the main part of the Kotel – to the north – feasible and more substantial. And if a group of Reform tourists or from the local Reform shul – Kol Haneshama – ended up there on Shabbat after a stroll around the walls on Shabbat, they couldn’t just go in and daven. In fact, I don’t know if you can go in at all on Shabbat morning! I am calling not for freedom at the “old” Western Wall; I am calling to open the “real” Western Wall – the Southern Bend of the Western Wall!
Yes, in an ideal world the religious authorities and the government would be pluralistic and would allow all sorts of davening, even in different sections, at the main plaza of the Kotel. But until that moment comes, we have something we should be able to do right now: Open up Robinson’s Arch to all davening, all the time. If you come from Dung gate, it where many of the buses leave you off, it is actually the first “Kotel” you see: people don’t even have to know that there is a Wall where women get arrested for wearing a tallit or pelted for reading a … Torah! At the real wall, you can daven how you want to daven, and there are wonderful areas for different groups to gather and celebrate. But we need the cooperation of the Masorati movement, or the Davidson family, or whoever controls Robinson’s Arch! Maybe would could ask the Davidson family to endow this area for davening, so that the museum would not lose out on their dues. One way or another, we can easily open up this place of t’filla.
So on this one I say, don’t blame the chareidim! We don’t need that frum, restricted, non-inclusive wall. We already have a Wall, a genuine, dramatic Western Wall, where we can have everyone daven the way they want to. Let’s use it and let others use it.
Open Up Robinson’s Arch! Let Us Pray! Let Us Wear Our Tallitot! Let Us Read Our Torah! Let Us All, Men and Women, Sing Hallel Out Loud!
And I would not be surprised if soon enough the people who put t’fillin on at the other Wall, will come to the new, inclusive Wall, and the men and women will be waiting outside the new Wall for our tzedaka, and people can start putting notes in the new Wall, and we can start bringing Barbara Streisand and any other celebrity or politician to the new Wall. Let’s continue to fight the good fight for separation of government from religion, but in the meantime let’s make sure that anyone who wants to daven to Hashem, in any way, has a way to do it at the Wall. As the famous telegram said in June 1967, “HaKotel Biyadeinu” –“The Kotel is in our hands!” Indeed it is , we just have to open it up to all.