Beyond the Cusp

December 5, 2013

The Provocateurs at the Wall

Again this week on Rosh Hodesh, the first day of a Hebrew month, there was the planned provocation at the Kotel, the Western Wall, by a group of self-proclaimed reformers demanding that Israel in general and the Kotel area in particular be made more accepting. They deem it a necessity that the traditions and rules which currently exist and are mostly kept by unspoken agreement be torn asunder and room made for universal acceptance of practices and attitudes from within the broad spectrum of the Jewish faith. These “Women of the Wall” feel that having the Kotel and environs be controlled and run under Halacha, the traditional religious interpretations of the Law and Commandments also referred to as Talmudic Law is too restrictive and foreboding, making the wall unwelcoming to many lesser religious Jews. These are the traditionally accepted practices and more by which traditional Orthodox Jews live their lives. The Women of the Wall want that Reform and Conservative Jews be permitted to hold their religious practices, especially those which run contrary to Halacha. Their argument is that by only allowing the most stringent interpretations of Judaism to be permitted at this the holiest place on Earth to Jews that there are numerous Jews who are being left out and unable to participate in activities or even to pray at the Wall.


There are those reading this and asking why cannot the Wall be made more inclusive. The answer to this question was recently taken up by Jewish Authorities and the Knesset and a compromise was offered where a new section of the Western Wall has been cleared near to the Robinson Arch as an additional area adjacent to the traditional Kotel established where those who would prefer a less traditional set of practices be observed or held can be done without disturbing the peace and holiness that is preserved at the Kotel. The Women of the Wall initially had said that this was adequate and that they were satisfied and accepted this new arrangement. That was before the first of a new month where apparently they have changed their minds or something is awry as they were once again holding their “service” at the Wall which includes directly challenging Jewish Traditions and accepted practices as a provocation. Another claim they have made is that visitors from outside Israel might feel put off by the traditional and Halachic rules at the Kotel and that all the varied forms of Judaism should be granted acceptance of their rules, law, and commandments as they practice their faith and not be basically struck over the head with the stringent rules currently in place. Their demands that there basically be no rules regarding practices and services at the Kotel remind me of a quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton which states, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”


I feel a confession should be made about myself. I would not be considered to be an overly religious and practicing Jew under Halachic Law and was not raised as an Orthodox Jew as is the case for the majority of Jews in the United States and elsewhere outside of Israel. I have been to visit the Western Wall and did not feel out of place any more than my normal nervousness to being at a holy place which, in many ways, far exceeds my life’s experience of being Jewish and Torah observance and actually found some peace that this place was run under rules of strict observance that honored the traditions and the time honored values of Judaism as it was practiced over the centuries when the Jews, the Hebrews, the Israelites lived and ruled the Promised Land and observed and lived by the Torah, the rules handed down from on High. Personally I would not desire the Western Wall be changed in any way except possibly have scheduled classes for those seeking to reclaim their heritage, but that can be done most anywhere in Israel if you truly desire to do so.


Some might demand to have explained why this has caused such a ruckus and why cannot the rules be liberalized to allow for such practices from less observant Jewish sects. The first question that needs to be raised to answer this is exactly how far will it be necessary to redefine what is acceptable and what when the new lines are challenged and further changes are demanded? Eventually such a route would lead to complete anarchy and no rules what-so-ever.  Furthermore, the solution put in place should have satisfied all involved as a new section was made available for those practices outside of the Orthodoxy. Let us for a moment change the solution around and see if we can predict what would have happened if the main section of the Western Wall had been made to conform with the Women of the Wall’s demands and the Orthodox traditional Halachic rules were made to be applied in the newly opened section. I feel extremely comfortable in predicting that had that been the new arrangement, then these ladies would have held their protest observance at the new wall demanding it also be adjusted to their definitions of what is acceptable. Their leaders have made their true intentions known in slips during interviews when they admitted their ultimate aim is to redefine Judaism away from the strict Orthodoxy and make everything bend to accommodate the Conservative, Reform and other sects and to erase any vestiges of the Orthodoxy. Their aim is not to establish universal acceptance of all forms of Judaism but rather the universal rejection of traditional Orthodox Judaism.


Their desire is to tear down rather than to build and that is where the problem lies. To accommodate these ladies’ demands would be to accept the pretext that Judaism has no traditional laws, no true standards and that anyone may define what is permitted in their view and practice of Judaism and nobody else has any right to claim that they have missed the mark of being a true and observant Jew. Traditions are necessary and the Orthodoxy and their holding to the ancient laws and enforcement of the Commandments is what will allow Judaism to survive. This is far from the first time that there have been Jews who claimed they were modernizing the religion of Judaism and making it relevant to the times. The most obvious was when the ancient lands of the Jews broke into two Kingdoms, the northern Kingdom named Israel which felt that their views of the traditions and laws needed to be accepted, and the Kingdom of Judah which was the southern Kingdom which observed the older traditions. In time the Northern Kingdom fell to invaders and were carried off where they either ceased to exist as Jews through assimilation or simply not having the traditions on which to hold their religion close. These became the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who were deemed not to return until the final redemption and the return of all Jews to their Promised Land. The Kingdom of Judah did also eventually fall but the Jews from Judea had their traditions and Halachic Laws to keep their religion alive and separate from all other religions thus keeping them from assimilation. This survival of traditional Judaism has ramification even into modern times if one looks deeply enough knowing what they seek but perhaps that is a subject for a later article.


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