This Wednesday, a Jewish student visiting the Temple Mount was asked by Muslim Waqf officials to remove his kippa. “I never thought that in Judaism's holiest site I would be subjugated to such discrimination,” he said. Rabbi Chaim Richman, international director of The Temple Institute, deemed the Waqf officials’ demand discriminatory.
And it is. Demanding people remove garments they believe are religiously required is discrimination. It is decidedly different from asking people to cover their hair or remove their shoes at a mosque, which is respecting the modesty and holiness standards of the place. It is asking people to remove the identifying marks of their religion, because the religion and practice themselves are deemed offensive.
And for that reason, arresting women wearing talitot at the Kotel–which happened again today–is discrimination. These women believe they are obligated by God to wear talitot when praying or when leading prayer; arresting them for doing so is discrimination against their religious practice. Which, by the way, happens on the women’s side of the mechitza so it cannot bother men who do not want to participate in women-led prayers.
But neither Rabbi Richman nor any other prominent Israeli Orthodox rabbi has spoken out against these arrests. Indeed, the Chief Rabbinate encourages them; Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said that Israel’s recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis could “uproot all the foundations of the Torah.” And thus, they allow and encourage religious discrimination against their fellow Jews at Judaism’s holiest site.
Those Orthodox rabbis who stand idly by when the Women of the Kotel are arrested but vilify the Waqf officials at the Temple Mount should take a page out of a third religion’s book: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone,” says Jesus in the Gospel of John (8:7). Mainstream Orthodox Judaism in Israel should clean up the religious discrimination in its own holy sites before pointing fingers at others.