Discontent at the Kotel

Mutual respect calls for the newcomers to desist from defiling the sanctity of the Kotel and worship there as did their ancestors. Op-ed.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky ,

Kotel
Kotel
iStock

Could we please stop referring to each person’s bête noire as Sinat Chinam?

The latest perversion of this philosophical concept came in response to the alleged disruption by religious youth of the egalitarian, anti-Torah worship services at the extension of the Kotel. Like it or not – it was surely impolite and violated the revered Western doctrine of “live and let live” – it was not Sinat Chinam, which is not baseless hatred as much as it is self-destructive hatred. It is hatred that destroys the hater as much as it does the target of his hatred and is thus ultimately self-defeating.

To the lay eye and tendentious thinker, Sinat Chinam has apparently deteriorated into any type of hatred. In essence, if you dislike what I like, then you must be guilty of Sinat Chinam. Hence the accusations of Sinat Chinam against these passionate and politically incorrect youth who brought a mechitzah to the new “egalitarian” section of the Kotel and thereby disturbed the serenity of the worshippers.

It is odd, but I don’t recall accusations of Sinat Chinam being leveled against the Israelis who loudly protested against former PM Netanyahu for years, sometimes nightly, disturbing the peace of the neighbors and interfering with their quality of life, especially the right to a quiet night in their residential neighborhoods. And those demonstrations involved petty politics – not hallowed principle.

Once we get past the cliché of Sinat Chinam it is easier to understand the Kotel rally as young people defending the honor and sanctity of a holy place, something that the worshippers studiously ignore in their echo chamber of virtuous self-aggrandizement. That is not Sinat Chinam.

For all the hypocritical pieties of those who lambasted the “demonstrators” as desecrating the Kotel, it has become an unfortunate truism that protesters, even sometimes, sadly, violent protesters, usually get their way in Israel and across the Western world.

It is as if the possessors of a media-favored grievance automatically have moral superiority. Thus rioters in recent years in Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv, Lod and elsewhere change policy and influence decision-makers. Limitations are placed on Jewish worshippers – indeed, on Jewish builders of homes across Judea and Samaria – for fear of Arab rioters.

The Kotel demonstrators have learned that lesson well. If we have learned anything from America in the past year, it is that anarchy works and the politicians usually follow along hoping to salvage some measure of stability (and retain their electoral viability), until the next demand is made. Whatever the merits of the argument, it is surely unhealthy for a polity to have its policy makers driven by fear of the mob.

But it is the substance of their complaint, if not their tactics, that deserve our attention. We would be hard-pressed to think of the holy site of another religion being forcibly co-opted by those of a different faith or even stream. St. Peters Square does not accommodate a Protestant Church and even Chabad has not set up shop in Mecca.

Those who look to the past treatment of Jews at the Kotel – when the Kotel was under the control of Muslims or Christians – as a template for today are shamefully denigrating Jewish sovereignty over the area. Those who nonchalantly embrace or even tolerate the idea of non-Orthodox worship of the Kotel – the retaining wall of the Second Temple, in the shadow of the holiest place on earth for Jews – do not understand the deviations of the non-Orthodox movements and thus the sacrilege at the Kotel.

If you judge by all the surveys taken over decades, and substantiated by more recent ones, few non-Orthodox Jews believe in God as the Creator and moral Authority of mankind, and even fewer believe in the divine origin of the Torah. Only a tiny minority yearns for the rebuilding of the Temple and in many cases these movements have removed such requests from their prayers.


Tolerance that flows in one direction only is just intolerance that has elitist and media support.
It is ironic, isn’t it, that they have made this place the focal point of their drive for legitimacy. In truth, most see it less as a place of prayer to God than as a national historic site of some significance, and only want to pray there because, well, the Orthodox pray there. But so did generations of Jews of all backgrounds and ideologies who realized the sanctity of the place and the religious sincerity of those who preserved it, and simply, properly and respectfully complied with the norms of the place. These worshippers should do the same.

Here is the greater irony. We derive the necessity for a mechitzah from the practice that existed in the Bet Hamikdash itself (Masechet Sukkah 51b) and was then extended to all permanent places of Jewish prayer. In other words, the non-Orthodox Jews are engaged in the very sort of egalitarian worship that was prohibited in the very place they purport to honor with their presence and their prayers. How is that for a lack of spiritual self-awareness?

This movement is part of a general trend to seek legitimacy for the deviant streams of Judaism even as their numbers drastically decline and their rate of intermarriage soars. And the desire for mutual respect and tolerance that underlies the accommodative nature of some of the politicians involved is also understandable, even though (for some, especially because) it tramples on the sensitivities of religious Jews.

It won’t work because most faithful Jews do not regard the non-Orthodox streams as legitimate expressions of Judaism. Most are reluctant to say it – decorum has its place – and certainly it won’t be said by those organizations whose donor base includes many non-Orthodox Jews.

It needs to be underscored that many of our brothers and sisters in these movements want to be good Jews and assume that what they have been taught is just a different but equally valid expression of Judaism. They have been misled by their teachers and rabbis. Many love Israel. But the inherent weakness of these movements has been proven by the astronomical intermarriage rate such that a large number (in the Reform movement in America, it is probably a majority) are no longer Jews according to halakha. Naturally, that necessitates cries to change the rules, make them Jews, accept intermarriage as a way to “increase” our population, alter the Torah, accept the reality of the sad state of Diaspora Jewry and import it to Israel.

Will the egalitarian section soon host intermarriages as well?

It is fascinating that the Wall Street Journal reported this week on the growing fears of a new schism in the Catholic Church over differing approaches to the issues of – you guessed it – same-sex marriage and ordination for women. That should ring a bell for Jews, as well as remind us that the pressures on tradition in our context are also coming from secular, Western, and non-Jewish sources.

The gist of the problem is that God gave the Torah to the Jewish people. He did not instead give each Jew a mirror and say to him or her: “just look in this mirror and you will be able to ascertain My will. Because My will is whatever you say it is.” There are no such holy mirrors. There is a holy Torah, holy days and holy places.

No group has the right to usurp control of even part of a holy place and claim it as their own, nor does such usurpation gain any more authenticity if it is supported by secular authorities. Here, mutual respect calls for the newcomers to desist from defiling the sanctity of the Kotel and worship there as did their ancestors.
For sure, the Torah world is not monolithic but these are not radical views. These are mainstream views held by people who seek to be welcoming and open to every Jew. Tolerance that flows in one direction only is just intolerance that has elitist and media support.

And it is not Sinat Chinam to point that out.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky was the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey until his recent aliya to Israel.He serves as Israel's representative and Vice President and Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values.



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