I have been experiencing a recurring fantasy. In it, a non-Catholic Christian group appears at the Vatican and demands to hold a religious service, which of course would not include the celebration of the Mass or the communion sacraments of the Catholic Church.

They are refused. Says the Vatican priest: “This space is dedicated by and for Catholics for classical Catholic worship.”

They cry out, “But what about religious pluralism?”

“Pluralism,” answers the priest, “simply means that within society, diverse faith systems can live together peacefully, side by side. It does not mean that all religions are parallel versions of one another and are equally valid. Please understand: We respect you as individuals, but in all honesty, we do not believe that your way, without the Mass and its attendant rituals, is equal to our way. Furthermore, if you as religious pluralists believe that non-Catholics and Catholics are equally valid, then logically you should have no objection to worshiping together with us today in our traditional Catholic way. Why must you have separate non-Catholic service in this Catholic place? Besides which, is it reasonable to hold your worship on these sacred precincts when centuries ago you rejected what these precincts stand for? No one prevents you from praying in your own churches. That would be true religious pluralism.”

The non-Catholics see the logic in the Catholic position, and return quietly to their own churches.

The fantasy came to an end, and I found myself in today’s reality — which somehow bore uncanny (even if not exact) echoes of the fantasy. In that reality, a Jewish non-Orthodox group appears on the grounds of Jerusalem’s Kosel Hamaaravi, the Western Wall, and demands to hold religious worship on the Kosel grounds. Certain prayers dealing with the Temple’s sacrificial system would be deleted, men and women would sit together and not separately, and the entire religious service would be non- halachic.

They are refused. Says the Kosel rabbi: “This place is dedicated by and for classical halachic Jewish prayer, and has maintained such prayer for thousands of years.”

They cry out, “But what about religious pluralism?”

“Pluralism,” answers the rabbi, “simply means that different approaches to faith can exist peacefully together in society. But it definitely does not suggest that halachah should recognize non-halachic practices and ideology as equally valid expressions of classical Judaism. Halachic Jews love and respect all Jews as individuals, whatever their personal level of observance. But in all honesty, we do not believe that your non-halachic ways are as valid as the classical halachic ways. You have a right to differ, and we do not interfere with the worship of non- Orthodox synagogues and temples. This is religious pluralism. Since you have your own places of worship, why do you insist on holding your religious services in a place that has from time immemorial been devoted to halachic norms — and whose principles your official movements long ago rejected?’

The non-Orthodox reply: “But the Kosel belongs to all Jews, not just to the Orthodox.” Says the Kosel rabbi: “You are right, and as part owner of the Kosel, you are welcome to enter this place and pray with us at any time, or to pray individually as you wish — as thousands do every day — but an official non-Orthodox worship service is highly inappropriate in this venue.”

The non-Orthodox — unlike the non-Catholics in my fantasy — do not see the logic of this position, and they do not return to their own synagogues and temples. Instead, they turn to the media and to the courts, they pressure the Knesset and Prime Minister, they issue denunciations of Orthodox dictatorship and monopoly, and angrily threaten to withhold all support for the State of Israel.

All of which leaves me with two questions. Firstly, does the furious reaction of the non-Orthodox stem from an insatiable desire to come closer to G-d particularly on this sacred ground, or could there be other, less lofty motivations? Secondly, underneath it all I wonder: Even though my fantasy and the reality are not fully parallel — certainly non-halachic Jews are of course still Jews — there are obvious similarities, and since the lesson of the fantasy is so much more appealing, is there any way I can metamorphose the reality back into my fantasy?

Which clearly is another fantasy. 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 692)