Lawmaker blames Israel’s earthquakes on egalitarian prayer at Western Wall


JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Knesset lawmaker from the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party blamed a series of earthquakes in northern Israel on efforts by the liberal streams of Judaism to improve an egalitarian section at the Western Wall.

Yinon Azoulay at a Knesset debate Wednesday also said that Reform Jews “are not Jews.”

The debate was on the plans to renovate the egalitarian prayer section located near Robinson’s Arch at the southern end of the Western Wall.

The quakes, ranging from a 3.2 to 4.3 magnitude, jolted the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel on Wednesday and Thursday.

“Today we heard there was some kind of earthquake. Maybe we should do some soul-searching that this earthquake was because someone is trying to harm that which is holy to us? Hear our pain, they are not Jews,” Azoulay said from the podium during the debate.

“What do you have to do with the ancient stones of the Kotel?” he asked, addressing the liberal Jewish movements. “I suggest that you take the money you invest in the State of Israel and build yourselves a Western Wall in the U.S.”

Plans to renovate the egalitarian prayer site at the Western Wall, with a budget of more than $7 million, have continued despite the suspension of a comprehensive plan approved in 2016.

Azoulay is the son of Religious Services Minister David Azoulay, who gave up his Knesset seat to his son in March under a law that allows government ministers to resign from Knesset but remain a minister, while the party can fill the seat with one of its members.

David Azoulay, who sits on the committee charged with approving the upgrades to the egalitarian prayer section, previously has made several derogatory statements about non-Orthodox Jewish denominations.

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