Monday, July 23, 2018

Is an Egalitarian Space at the Kotel Really Needed?

A daily prayer service at the Egalitarian Section of the Kotel (Times of Israel)
I know this might seem like overkill since I have dealt with this issue so many times, but I can’t resist pointing out the obvious. Not because of some sort of cheap thrill I get out of it. Far from it. I don’t. But because it clearly demonstrates the hypocrisy of heterodoxy’s claim to need an egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel. What it may in fact demonstrate is that there is a greater need for another Orthodox prayer section.

Yesterday was Tisha B’Av - a day where Jews all over the world mourned the destruction of both the first and second temples (the Batei Mikdash). Which is what the Kotel is all about. Although it is not a remnant of the actual temple walls (although there is a minority opinion that it is), it is a remnant of the outer wall surrounding the Temple and the closest thing to it. It is where the Shechina (God’s presence here on earth) still resides.

That is why on that day, the Kotel area is filled with mourners lamenting the tragedy of losing those temples. If one is a sincerely religious Jew they not only fast on this day, but they spend it in a state of mourning for that loss. There is no more logical place to do that then the Kotel. 

So that even though it might be difficult to sit outside in the hot sun in the middle of summer while fasting, one will find many Jews doing that. These are the Jews that understand what that day is all about. They are sincere about following Halacha of which mourning the destruction of both Temples is part of. And do it on Tisha B’Av in the most logical spot despite its difficulty.

Tisha B’Av would have been a magnificent day for heterodox Jews – or at least some (or even one) of its rabbis to do the same at the egalitarian plaza. But it appears that the egalitarian section of the Kotel was completely empty yesterday. Not a single Conservative or Reform Jew or even rabbi showed up, apparently.  

Makes me wonder if they even care about the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash or whether any heterodox Jew even fasted on that day.  Or even knew that it was Tisha B’Av.  My guess is that very few did if any did, except for their rabbis, who apparently don’t care enough about Tisha B’Av to preach about it.. 

It’s a good thing no one showed up. The Jewish Press reported the following:
A stone was released on Sunday morning and fell from the Western Wall, crashing on the stair leading up to the Israel Section platform used by the mixed prayer groups of the Reform and Conservative movements... Miraculously there were no worshipers and no one was hurt...
Thank God for that. But the fact that no one was there begs the question of why they need a section of the Kotel in the first place if they don't use it even on Tisha B'Av? It can’t be because they care about what it represents. I would be willing to bet that not only don’t they mourn for its loss, but that they don’t think it should ever be rebuilt! 

How many heterodox Jews want to return to an era of sacrificing animals on an alter in the holiest of places? 

I’ll take a stab at the answer: Zero! I’ll bet if you asked any heterodox Jew if he longs for a rebuilding of the temple and restoring sacrifices they would balk at the idea! And probably say something like… animal sacrifice is an ancient barbaric ritual that should never be restored. (Although there is a minority opinion that there will no longer be animal sacrifices in the next temple, it is a minority opinion. The vast majority of the rabbinic opinion is that sacrifices will be restored. But I digress.)

And then there is this. The fact that no one uses the egalitarian plaza is no longer true. It is apparently being used on a daily basis. But not by any heterodox Jews. From the Times of Israel
Dozens of Orthodox yeshiva students hold separate-gender services every day at a Western Wall prayer space specifically set aside in a government decision for egalitarian, pluralistic worship… 
I don’t think that any heterodox rabbis have complained about this. Yet. Probably either because they don’t even know about it - never bothering  to show up there unless it is for political purposes, or because they don’t care since no one else uses it anyway.

Perhaps the Israeli government should consider making this area another Orthodox section and expand it to accommodate the overflow of Orthodox Jews that pray at the Kotel in huge numbers at various times during the year (at which time there is still no one doing it at the egalitarian section)?

All of this should therefore make it very obvious that heterodox demands for an egalitarian section of the Kotel has nothing to do with the desire to pray there. It has only one purpose, to gain legitimacy for heterodoxy. Something the more honest rabbis among them have already admitted.

If that is really the case, why give them something based on the false premise that they need it… that heterodox Jews are dying to pray at the Kotel in egalitarian ways when they rarely do so now? Should Israel ever honor demands based on a false premise?

That heterodoxy wants recognition and legitimacy is understandable. Let them fight for that. It is their democratic right. Let them make any arguments they want about the value of pluralism in Israel. And let Orthodox Jews exercise their democratic right to try and prevent pluralism in Israel which they see as a destructive force. But using the Kotel as a prop for  achieving their pluralistic goals is demeaning to the Kotel and ought not be part of that conversation. 

Unless and until they can demonstrate a real need by a significant number of heterodox Jews that believe they can pray best only together with members of the opposite sex - their requests ought to be denied.  

Finally, I want to reiterate what I have said about this issue in the past. It gives me no pleasure to fight this fight. It is a source of great pain to me. I wish there were no denominations at all. That we were all just one Jewish people – some more religious. Some less. And some not at all. That is how it used to be before the advent of any denominations. Let the Jewish people - the people of Israel live by the credo of this great country  - the United States of America:  One nation, under God… with liberty and justice for all. Justice best achieved under God by following His Torah. Not the winds of societal change.