Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Following Us Everywhere

The Western Wall is a controversial place in Judaism and not because of false Arab claims about the existence of the Temples (may one of them be speedily rebuilt).  When mentioned in news reports, the suffix "Judaism's holiest site" is often appended to "the Western Wall".  Thanks to efforts by the Women of the Wall and pushback from the Charedi community, what should be a place where all Jews can come and worship God has become a low-level battleground.
In this regard we should clear some important things up.  Firstly, the Western Wall is not Judaism's holiest site.  Saying it is both betrays a profound ignorance of history and validates false Arab claims that the har haBayis belongs to them.  The Western Wall isn't even part of the Temple but the last piece of the retaining wall which shored up the compound that surrounded the Temple and the har haBayis.  It contains the general holiness of the city of Yerushalayim but nothing more.  Over the millenia it has become a symbol of our national downfall and exile but when we see the Wall we should not think of it as a holy site but rather a reminder of what we are missing behind it up where the big golden dome currently sits. 
For centuries the Wall was a quiet site for Jewish prayer.  People came and poured out their hearts to the Creator.  Organized prayer was rare due to a lack of cooperation from ruling authorities over the ages as well as the Muslim propensity for using the small alleyway in front of it as a dump.  
All this changed after God miraculously returned the Old City to Israel in 1967.  As a reminder of the way things were we must remember that when the first Israeli soldiers reached it they had no idea what they'd found.  It was one side of a narrow, garbage-strewn alley and it was only after they found the actual har haBayis that the asimon dropped.
Today, of course, no one can miss the place with its open plaza and endless hordes of schnorrers intermingled with tourists and their cute little cone-shaped kippos.  Unfortunately, along with fame has come trouble.  
It is an inconvenient truth that when Jews of all kinds gather to pray and wish to be inclusive of all comers it is necessary for there to be a mechitzah and separation of men and women.  There is no rule in the non-observant "streams" of Judaism forbidding separate worship and there is a rule in Torah-observant Judaism demanding it.  Therefore, in order to serve as a place of worship inclusive of all Jews there must be a mechitzah at the Wall.  An egalitarian plaza would be a sign of a desire to exclude the Orthodox from participation or demanding that we abandon Orthodoxy as a prerequisite for joining the rest of the community.
This hasn't stopped a small group of malcontents from trying to upset the status quo.  The Women of the Wall has, for years, instigated riots through their desire to bring egalitarianism to the Wall.  Not satisfied with just that they have also waged legal battles to accomplish their ends.  And recently they scored a tremendous victory, or so it was portrayed, by having the Robinson's Arch section of the Wall declared an egalitarian plaza.
It hasn't taken long to fall apart.
First there was the usual protest from the UltraOrthodox community about the creation of a non-halachic section at the Wall.  This is, in my opinion, incorrect.  I will explain by way of a personal example.
I live in a small community, one in which the day school must accommodate observant and non-observant children in order to survive.  The compromise over the years has been for the school to provide a very watered-down limudei kodesh curriculum but to exclusively hire Orthodox rabbonim to teach it.  About 16 years ago or so a group of non-observant parents, not satisfied with this arrangement, began demanding that the Reform and Conservative rabbis in town be hired to teach in the school to provide their "perspective" in limudei kodesh.  After the leadership of the school refused these parents took their children and a chunk of funding from the local Jewish federation and started a private Jewish school all their own. 
At first this was seen as a terrible schism within the community.  We're a small one without any multimillionaires to keep us afloat.  (However we are currently accepting applications for one, please contact me at if interested and rich enough) Every dollar from every person counts.  There is barely enough money in the community's coffers for one school, let alone two.  Yet after a while we realized this split was a blessing in disguise.  The formation of this Reform school took much pressure off the main dayschool which could continue its hiring policy without any real parental opposition.
The Ultraorthodox community should see the creation of the new plaza in this light.  No matter how persuasive Rav Avi Shafran and his bagmen try to be, they are unlikely to convince the WoW to start davening in a proper, observant fashion.  The new plaza separates the two groups, reduces friction and allows each group to go about their religious business without interference.
The Ultraorthodox protest isn't why this deal will fall apart.
First of all, there's the Muslim factor.  The Waqf is well-known for supporting the destruction of archaeological remains under the har haBayis while hypocritically condemning any minor renovations at the Wall as an egregious violation of the so-called status quo.  They have already began to issue threats at this new renovation plan even though it doesn't affect them one whit.
More significantly, the Women of the Wall are going to ensure this fails.  Why?
There are two factions within the group, if you recall.  One group is non-observant and wants to bring egalitarian do-as-you-please worship to the Wall.  They are not interested in worshiping, per se, but in being seen worshiping.  Let one think this an unfair comment, consider that their leaders are already rejecting this new deal because they feel it excludes them from the Wall.  This is naturally completely contradictory to the facts on the ground.  The Wall at the edge of Robinson's Arch is the same Wall as at the Plaza.  If it's the Wall they want to pray at, there is it, but it's not.  It's the Plaza they want because of the attention to crave, the "here we are!" factor.  
The other group, the observant women who simply want to sing out loud without Chareidim screaming "kol ishah" at them aren't interested in an egalitarian prayer plaza.  The deal doesn't address them at all and rather implies they are secondary to the egalitarian group.
The biggest proof of their nefarious intentions is, however, found in the non-observant religious thinking.  Orthodox Jews pray thrive daily for the rebuilding of the Temple. Our davening is centred around recollections of its avodah.  We present ourselves to the Wall because of the Temple that used to stand behind it.  
The non-observant, however, are quite different in their approach.  Reform liturgy has never ascribed importance to the Temple or its rebuilding.  Conservative liturgy actively removed mentions of the rebuilding from its prayer books and even composed alternative amidah prayers to avoid mentioning the avodah at all.  You'd think that with such a lack of interest they wouldn't care much about the Wall and praying there.  yet they do.  Why?
Because we do. We, the Orthodox, have made a big deal out of the Wall, turned it from a place for private prayer into the world's largest outdoor shul.  Since the Plaza is national property, however, our treating it as our private place of worship others are invited to attend was bound to create acrimony. 
There is also jealousy, a driving factor in egalitarianism, protests against this idea to the contrary.  Let's be honest.  Yes, there are a small number of egalitarians who genuinely believe that they need to put on tefillin to properly connect to God but they are outnumbered by those who want to do it because  "the men get to do it".  On a large scale this is pushing the WoW in their agenda.  They don't want egalitarian prayers at the Wall.  If they did, they'd be already crowding Robinson's Arch.  they want to end orthodox prayer at the Plaza because it offends them.  They want the Plaza because the Orthodox have it.
One sometimes gets the felling that if the chief rabbis were to announce that all prayer at the Wall must immediately relocated to a nice felafel stand in the Armenian quarter that the WoW would follow us there and demand egalitarian worship while completely forgetting about the Wall.  Such superficial jealously should be pitied.


Hannah out loud said...

Hi Garnel

Thanks for this post, I appreciate it. Incidentally this is more or less the sentiments of people in my community have said to me , not just the Rabbis, so I feel more comfortable with the issue now.

RAM said...

Lately, the main aims of the Left are forcing its views on everyone (other than Muslims) and facilitating Muslim terror. The Left fancies that Sharia can come to the West and magically leave the Left alone. The Left is not nearly as tolerant of undiluted Judaism.

Micha Berger said...

On-topic comment: Actually, the Robinson's arch location is missing the past 150 years of prayers, but gains by allowing you to stand among the remnants of the Second Temple itself and the street those who actually went there used. Personally, I often went to the archeological site to say tehillim there and at the southern gates rather than the Kotel Plaza area. (BTW, it's very very moving to stand on the steps to the southern gates saying chapter 222 "עֹמְדוֹת הָיוּ רַגְלֵינוּ בִּשְׁעָרַיִךְ יְרוּשָׁלָ‍ִם".)

Off-topic about the Moslem claims to the Temple Mount, but important to know: Their entire claim to the Temple Mount rests on it being the Temple Mount. The Qur'an, surah 17, surat "al-Isra", refers to the Far Mosque Mohammad goes to in terms of it being the location of our Temples. It refers to our being punished twice and the Temples being destroyed. They are being self-contradictory when they deny the historicity of our claim and yet assert their own.

The sura opens:

1 Glory to Him Who carried His servant by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Remote Mosque, whose precincts We blessed, that We might show him of Our signs! Surely He is the Hearing, the Seeing.
2 And We gave Moses the Book and made it a guidance to the Children of Israel (saying): Take no guardian beside Me --
3 The offspring of those whom We bore with Noah. Surely he was a grateful servant.
4 And We made known to the Children of Israel in the Book: Certainly you will make mischief in the land twice, and behave insolently with mighty arrogance.
5 So when of the two, the first warning came to pass, We raised against you Our servants, of mighty prowess, so they made havoc in (your) houses. And it was an accomplished threat....

(tr. Maulana Muhammad Ali, 1920)

Mr. Cohen said...

Maybe we should pray to G_d that all people who are not-Orthodox-Jews should stay far away from the kotel and far away from Jerusalem.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Mr. Cohen, on the contrary - we should pray they come, be inspired to develop a relationship with the Creator and return to Torah.

Mr. Cohen said...

I feel disappointed because there is still no article on this blog about the only Jewish organization in the world that actually sues terrorists in court: Shurat HaDin.

Please help Shurat HaDin SUE the terrorists in court:

Shurat HaDin’s victory for Israel on FaceBook:

Thank you!

PS: * * * *

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't conflate Anat Hoffman's personal agenda with the overall goal of many women who have supported WoW. If WoW goes away, she becomes irrelevant. She loses her place as the center of attention. I think that's just the way people who often lead activists movements tend to be. Take Rabbi Avi Weiss as another example. There's no question he led at tremendous personal sacrifice the effort to free Soviet Jewry. It also kept him as the center of media attention every time he got arrested. Despite the personal cost, I think he thrived on that attention. When the issue of Soviet Jewry went away, he had to reinvent himself to keep that place of attention. His new cause become Open Orthodoxy. The same can probably be said of Rabbi Gil Student. When his blog was prominent he was often the center of attention. When it waned, he moved on. Seeking to regain the spotlight, he becomes the outspoken leader of a small activist group in the RCA.

In each case we see an ego and personality that craves being the center of attention and will do their utmost to hang on to that as the driving force of their life's work. They're people who would have had average careers without their willingness to put themselves "out there" as the leader of a cause, that catapulted them into the limelight.

Give Anat another cause she can capitalize, she'll move on. Until then, she's fighting for her relevance, and not the main reason many women joined with WoW in the past. My impression is that most just want a spot for women to lead women's prayer groups that includes reading from a Torah and the right to don tallit/tefillin for those who want that too.