Western Wall and Disengagement

6 b Menahem-Av, Thursday

Below two topics: a very short one, and a very long one.

Haaretz Magazine Friday 29 b Tamuz (Aug.5) had a 4 –page feature on the Lakewood yeshiva world titled “Only in America”. Given Haaretz’s often anti-religious stance, this was an unusual piece. I wonder if others read it and thought it was fair and accurate.

b) DISENGAGEMENT:Disengagement Rally

The call for gathering at the Western Wall to pray for the abrogation of the disengagement from Gaza brought unheard of crowds to the Wall Wednesday night. (Army radio first reported 50,000, then upped it to 70,000, and now the papers say 100,000 amassed there). In Cross-currents there has been discussion of the haredi attitudes (emphasis on plural attitudes) towards disengagement. What was notable last night was that almost all the segments of the haredi sector (Shas led by R. Ovadia Yosef, hassidim from many courts and yeshivot, Chabad) stood together with the national religious. (Leaders of the Lithuanian-Litvishe yeshiva world were the exception; they did not officially attend, though there was massive unofficial presence). There were no speeches, only the Shema, El Adon Haslichot, Shma kolenu and other prayers.

The disengagement crisis has made me, and others, more acutely aware of the commonalities between the haredi and national-religious sectors. Over a decade ago Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshiva Har Etzion, made this point in a talk to modern Orthodox rabbis, now reprinted in “By His Lights” (adapted by R. Reuven Ziegler, Ktav, 224-6).

“When all is said and done, we should recognize and realize that what we share with the Rightist community, far, far outweighs whatever divides us – I sometimes have the feeling that, with regard to perceiving that community, we are often somewhat remiss.”

Bostoner Rebbe Speaking at Rally He then quotes a quip of the late Hebrew University Ernst Simon that “the people you can talk to, you can’t daven with, and the people with whom you can daven, you can’t talk.”

Rav Aharon continues,

“For benei Torah… the shared universe of Talmudic discourse, of havayot de-Abbaye ve-Rava, serves as a great cementing force. But even amongst benei Torah, many in our camp no doubt find it easier to talk, perhaps even to work, with an intelligent secular colleague than with a Karliner chassid, forgetting that the pleasantries attendant upon passing the time of day cannot compare with a shared vision of eternity. Surely we need to recognize…that our basic affinity is with those – past, present, or future – to whom tzelem E-lokim, malkhut Shamayim and avodat Hashem (the Divine image, Divine sovereignty, and the service of G-d) are the basic categories of human existence.”

He then discusses the areas of difference between the two sectors.

For a few hours, though, those differences melted at the Wall Wednesday night.

The Jerusalem Post took the trouble to denounce the proposed gathering in its lead editorial a few days ago titled “Inauspicious Plans ” .

The Post wrote that:

the Western Wall plaza, the unifying symbol of Jewish rootedness, is never the right place to hold demonstrations. But it would be hard to imagine a more dangerous time to exploit the holy site than in the coming days.

It is funny that when the issue suits them, the Post does see the Western Wall as an appropriate place for a demonstration. An example is the 15-year struggle of the Women of the Wall to try to bring problematic innovations to the women’s section of the Wall. I wrote about the last attempt by the Women of the Wall to barge into the women’s section in my op ed in the Jerusalem Post July 25, “When custom takes precedence”

Recently, in the Hebrew new month of Tamuz the status quo was challenged and intentionally broken by the Women of the Wall, a group that turned to the High Court of Justice in 1989 in order to obtain legal approval for deviating from accepted Jewish practice with respect to the four Ts- tallitot, tefillin, Torah reading, tunes sung in loud voices.

A founder of Women of the Wall, Bonna Haberman, justified her actions in a J. Post op ed “Sacred Access for the secular” July 12

In my rejoinder to her I wrote:

Bonna Haberman reveals her proactive purpose in her essay titled “Drama in Jerusalem” in the compendium Women of the Wall (edited by P. Chesler and R. Haut). She writes in 2002 that ‘I am inclined toward a strategy of revolution, of creating new facts on the ground. Many times I have donned my tallit at the Kotel and encouraged others to do so too.’ To this end, she continues, ‘we were ready to conduct an act of civil disobedience, defying the Court order to desist from our prayer practices in the Kotel.’

I think that the issues of feminism that Women of the Wall represent are more problematic and threatening in the long run to the Jewish people, than even the thorny political/physical problems presented by our Muslim neighbors in general and the Disengagement from them in particular.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via www.cross-currents.com.

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5 Responses

  1. Moshe says:

    As an eyewitness, let me tell you what I saw, and then you can decide. The entire Kotel plaza was packed. Totally full. The prayer area all the way to the guard booths at the entrances. All of the cars and ambulances there looked like they had sunk in quicksand – only the tops of the cars could be seen (from above!) due to the crowd.

    About halfway through, the police (rightfully) refused entrance to the Kotel. It was simply too crowded. There was nowhere to go. People started lining up outside the gates, and the entire Kikar Goren (area from Kotel plaza to Dung Gate) was just as packed with people very quickly. The masses of people also flooded the road coming down from the Jewish Quarter to the Kotel. All of the roofs, balconies, and lookouts that overlooked the Kotel from the Jewish Quarter were packed with people, and there were many, many, many more who were stuck throughout the Old City and outside it and could not make it to the prayer. Loudspeakers were set up to allow those who could not enter to hear.

    I have no idea how Army radio got their numbers. The Kotel plaza alone must have held at least 50,000 people, and far more than that were outside trying to get in. A sea of people were trying to go to pray to G-d. I have been at the Siyum Hashas at MSG, and I must tell you, this was far more uplifting – there were probably more than 10 times the number of people who were praying together.

    All in all, it’s about time, and it is also a commandment to pray to G-d in times of trouble – see the Rambam at the beginning of Hilchos Taanis.

  2. Romach says:

    Remember, it takes two to tango, both Modern/Centrist Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox…have similar sentiments been expressed by those within the charedi sphere? If not…well, it makes it an uphill battle.

    Additionally, I believe the quote attributed to Prof. Ernst (which is said in “reference to the dilemma of a religious professor” was originally one by Halivni, who is not considered Orthodox by most.

  3. Sarah Elias says:

    Re the Haaretz article: Unexpectedly positive writing from Haaretz. I think the article was basically accurate, although seeing the community’s dirty laundry washed in public bothers me. The problems mentioned do exist, though, not that writing about them in Haaretz is going to help solve them in any way.

  4. Shragie says:

    Moshe hit it on the head. Yesterday’s turn out at the kosel was bittersweet. On the one hand it demonstrated the mutual fondness and sensitivity of so many individuals that constitute the Jewish nation – Mi kamcha Yisroel (Who can be compared to you Israel?).

    However, It also shows that all these Jews have been anxious to do something for their brethren without any outlet or means by which to do so until it is seemingly too late. I shudder to think had we come together immediately after this fiendish pact and not dragged our feet something could have been accomplished.

  1. September 13, 2006

    […] The president of Israel took a leave of absence for a day this week. Why? In order not to be present at the swearing in of Dorit Beinisch, the new head of the Israel Supreme Court. (He is being questioned on allegations relating to harrassment). Judge Beinisch will always be associated in my mind with the type of activism that led her to vote in 2000 to change the prayer arrangements at the Western Wall’s women’s section. She voted to allow the Women of the Wall to conduct Torah readings in tallitot and tefillin, changing long-standing “minhag hamakom.” The decision was appealed by Elyakim Rubinstein and in 2003 nine () judges went down to the women’s section to check things out and ruled that the Women of the Wall can pray at the wall, but at a separate southern section called Robinson’s Arch. The nine-judge appeal modified (in reality, overturned) the earlier decision. Judge Beinisch stuck to her guns and voted again for Women of the Wall, but there was a majority of 5 judges who voted for the Robinson’s Arch proviso. Suprisingly then Court President Aharon Barak was among the latter. Justice Beinisch is considered a clone of Barak, but in this case she divurged from his opinion (or he divurged from hers.) I had written about this earlier in Cross-currents last summer Judge Beinisch represents the activism that interferes where the court should not. This pertains not only to the ezrat nashim of Orthodox women (I don’t think Judge Beinisch frequents women’s sections of synagogues aside from checking out the Wall); but this exaggerated court activism and inappropriate interference also has led her to insturct the army, income tax, and other arms of the government how to execute their responsibilities. You can read her decisions in Hebrew by going to the Israel Supreme Court website. For the Women of the Wall decisions ask for number 2258/95 (the earlier decision in 2000) and then the appeal 4128/00 (the 2003 decision on the appeal). If you have trouble finding them, contact me and I will send you the two files. The decisions on Women of the Wall run to the dozens of pages. […]

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