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Israeli prime minister condemns ultra-Orthodox Jews’ interruption of Western Wall reform celebrations

The Jewish teenagers shouted "Nazis," "Christians," "animals" at Reform Jewish worshippers; U.S. envoy Deborah Lipstadt called the incident ‘anti-Semitic’ 

Young ultra-Orthodox men disrupt a bar mitzvah celebration at the egalitarian section of the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City (Photo: Laura Ben-David/Twitter)

An incident between two Jewish groups at the Western Wall last week is still sparking outrage in Israel – and even drawing attention from the U.S. Biden administration.

Last Thursday, young ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) extremists disrupted three bar and bat mitzvah (Jewish coming-of-age) ceremonies at the egalitarian plaza of the Western Wall. Dozens of the Haredi teenagers whistled and yelled at the celebrants, calling them “Nazis,” “Christians” and “animals,” The Times of Israel reported.  

In one case, a young ultra-Orthodox man was filmed ripping a page out of a prayer book (siddur), and wiping his nose with it while smirking. The video was posted on social media by The Masorti Foundation for a Conservative Judaism in Israel, also known as the Masorti Movement. 

“How can the Jewish state allow a reality in which people fear for their safety when they are just trying to pray in their own way, in a space that was specifically designated for this type of prayer?” stated the post. It called on the new prime minister to fulfill a promise for the Western Wall that “will put an end to this madness.” 

The mixed-gender, egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall is located southward, separate from the main plaza, which is segregated by gender. The separate space is meant for prayers by streams of Judaism – such as Conservative and Reform – that allow men and women to sit together during services. 

Rabbi Arie Hasit, who officiated one of the ceremonies in the section, wrote on social media: “This was an American boy who wanted to celebrate reaching the age of mitzvot, a boy who could have forgotten any connection with the Jewish people and the land of Israel but chose to go up to the Torah in Israel, in front of his parents, his grandfather and grandmother, and some family.”

“The boy did incredibly. He read and made no mistakes, despite the interruptions,” the rabbi added. “I am, on the other hand, heartbroken. There are people who hate me and are willing to hurt me because my Judaism is different than theirs.” 

U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt, said she was “deeply disturbed” by the images. 

Lipstadt, part of U.S. Joe Biden's administration, is currently visiting the Middle East on an 11-day official tour. “Let us make no mistake, had such a hateful incident – such incitement – happened in any other country, there’d be little hesitation in labeling it anti-Semitism,” she said.

Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid denounced the incident on Tuesday. 

“I am against all violence at the Western Wall, against people who want to pray as their faith allows them. This cannot continue,” Lapid told reporters during his official visit in Paris following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Lapid is an advocate of the “Western Wall compromise,” a legislation proposal that would give non-Orthodox streams of Judaism an official role in the management of the holy site. 

“I’ve said more than once that Israel is the only Western country in which Jews don’t have freedom of worship, which is unacceptable to me,” Lapid said.

At present, an Orthodox-run body called The Western Wall Heritage Foundation is solely responsible for administration of all matters concerning the Western Wall.

Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.

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