Handing the Western Wall to the Judaizers.

Quick, if you’re a settler-dominated government uninterested in sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinian people, what’s a good way to telegraph your position without raising a ruckus?

Well, one good way would be to turn over a sizable portion of Judaism’s holiest site to the management of a maximalist settler group — which is precisely what Israel’s government is about to do.

…Elad is best known, perhaps, for its management of the City of David (Ir David) archeological excavations, which it has turned into a right-wing propaganda center, eliding Palestinian history in the city, ignoring findings that don’t support a Jewish-only narrative, and in the process of expanding its work, damaging (or simply claiming) the property of Palestinians living in the surrounding neighborhood, Silwan.

Elad is also known for its aggressive efforts to settle — or, in its own words, to Judaize — Silwan, a Palestinian village that got tacked on to the modern municipality of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967, part of a massive annexation that engulfed 64 square kilometers of Palestinian lands and more than tripling Jerusalem in size.

This appeared last week in The Forward — to read more, please click here

Hatred at the Western Wall – not baseless.

Note: The following appeared in Open Zion last Friday.

According to the Hebrew calendar, we’re now in the month of Av, and fast approaching the single most grief-stricken day of the Jewish year. Tisha b’Av (the ninth of Av) begins on Monday next week, the day on which we mourn the destruction of our Temple (twice), as well as a series of other blood-soaked and heartbreaking events which, according to tradition (and in some cases recorded history), all happened on that single, terrible day. We’re taught that the Temple was destroyed (and by extension, Jewish history turned tragic) because of our own ungodly behavior—because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred.

This came to mind for me as I watched the reports out of Jerusalem this week regarding the monthly prayer service conducted by Women of the Wall at the Western Wall. There they stood, these brave women and their male allies, facing the wrath, the spit, the thrown eggs and tossed chairs of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, right there, at the Kotel, on the very remains of our Temple, the very spot where hatred undid us.

It’s easy for a Jew like me—an egalitarian-minded, Conservative-affiliated, American-Israeli Jew—to see the pictures and read the stories and immediately think: They’re doing what undid us. Those men in their beards and 16th century clothes, those young women bused in from religious institutions all over Israel, those people wielding projectiles and venom—they’re doing that which pulled us apart and scattered us to the nations. How can they not see? How, mere days before Tisha b’Av, can world Jewry not see what they’re doing?

But though I am a woman of faith, I attempt to live that faith in the world as it actually is, not as I would like it to be, and the simple truth is: Those people don’t believe that they’re practicing sinat chinam. They believe, and I’m guessing with all their hearts, that they’re protecting the faith of our fathers from one such as me. That their hatred is not only not-baseless, it is righteous.

“Nazism, Amalekitism, and Reform,” they screamed at their fellow Jews—which is to say: The men in the 16th century garb, the school girls, and whoever stood with them believe that women wearing prayer shawls are like Nazis. Like Amalek, the Biblical evil-doer whose name we are enjoined to “blot out.” And just to complete the picture, they rounded their insult off with the word “Reform”—in their eyes, Reform/non-Orthodox Jews are no better than Nazis. No better than Amalek.

The simple and oft-denied truth is that Jews have not been a unified people since that unfortunate incident with the Golden Calf. We’re not a unified people, because no people is. That’s why religions have reforms and upheavals and breakaways—indeed, that’s why the Talmud looks the way it does. Because people have wildly divergent thoughts about the same ideas.

And that’s also why, in a democracy, we’re not supposed to give one form of religious observance preference over the others—the very thing that Israel has enshrined in law, the very thing that allows ultra-Orthodox protestors to behave so vilely toward women who have come to our most sacred site in order to worship the Holy One.

I don’t hate the people who equate Jews like me and Women of the Wall with Hitler. I don’t want to blot them out. I will not suggest that their Judaism is inauthentic. But I do not doubt that their hate for and fear of me is very, very real, and that their political power gives that hate and fear very real consequences.

As a student of history, I believe that we lost our Temple because we were defeated militarily (this sort of thing happened a lot in Jerusalem, to all kinds of people); as a social scientist, I understand that the odium motivating this week’s protests has a good, solid base. There’s nothing we can do about either of those things, and none of my crunchy-granola angst about tikkun olam will change that.

What other-than-ultra-Orthodox Jews need to do is precisely what Women of the Wall is doing: Claim our space. Take the state to court. Insist that there is no single way to be a Jew, and that no Jew can claim hegemony over that which is holy to us all.

Even as I struggle within my own spiritual practice to learn the lessons of Tisha b’Av and expunge sinat chinam from my own heart, I don’t need the ultra-Orthodox to not-hate me. I need the state of Israel to protect my rights.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Israel: nation state, or ultra-Orthodox synagogue?

Next Thursday is Rosh Chodesh Iyyar, the first day of the month Iyyar according to the Hebrew calendar, and on that day, we can expect to see faithful Jews arrested in Judaism’s most sacred space for having the temerity to pray openly and with our faith’s most holy ritual objects.

Why? Because the Jews in question will be women.


As reported in The Forward’s Sisterhood blog:

In a March 14 letter to Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, Yossi Pariente wrote that he met with a deputy attorney general for the government of Israel to go over the rules pertaining to Women of the Wall, which include prohibitions on:

“…Wrapping yourselves in tallitot [prayer shawls], holding a minyan [prayer quorum] of women including the Kaddish [the mourners’ prayer] or Kedusha… and reading from the Torah.”

Pariente warns that, starting on the next Rosh Chodesh, which falls on April 11, Women of the Wall will be arrested and charged with breaking the law for doing any of these things.

“We would like to inform you that, starting on this coming Rosh Chodesh, the Israel Police will fulfill its duty to enforce the law.”

In the Jewish tradition, Rosh Chodesh is closely associated with women’s spirituality, and for the past 15 years, Women of the Wall has held monthly Rosh Chodesh services at the Western Wall because they

not only seek personal fulfillment in group prayer and Torah reading at our most sacred site, but also want to achieve recognition by the legal and religious Israeli establishment of our prayer service for the sake of all Jewish women.

They have often been met with violence, and many have been detained and then released by police, but at the most recent Rosh Chodesh observances, worshippers were largely left to their own devices, because three female Members of Knesset had joined their prayers, and MKs have legal immunity. It’s worth noting that for all these past struggles, Pariente’s most recent letter represents a genuine escalation—arrests and charges, rather than detention, and for the first time, a prohibition on saying Kaddish and Kedusha. Speaking with The Times of Israel, Hoffman said:

“Prohibiting women from saying Kaddish is a shanda [shameful] and brought on solely by the hegemony and short-sightedness” of the Western Wall’s rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz.

… Rabinowitz had “without a doubt, crossed a clear red line, as women’s right to say Kaddish is respected and accepted by the entire Jewish world, including Orthodox factions,” she said. Organization sources also said it held United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush to blame.

What Women of the Wall regularly do and propose to do next week is nothing that women do not do in synagogues across North America. Indeed, it is a limited version of the worship practiced by most Diaspora Jews, because it is still prayer held in segregation from men.

But Israel—the modern nation state that would claim our allegiance, our donations, and our political support—is once again paying from state coffers to strictly enforce religious limitations that reflect the worldview of only a small minority of the world’s Jews, the ultra-Orthodox. Once again, Israel’s government is telling the world’s Jews that they know what Judaism is, and we don’t.

This is not a women’s issue. This is not a social issue. This is not a niche issue. This is a Jewish issue par excellence, and if the Jewish state matters to Diaspora Jews, we all need to say so, men and women alike.

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