The Western Wall Compromise, and Compromised Commitment to Torah

There are compromises that are made in order to securely retain that which is most essential. Such is a pragmatic compromise, and it is manifest by armistice agreements between nations, contract negotiations between employer and employee, and everyday peaceful conduct between competitors and adversaries, as well as between all people who nobly accommodate others even when such accommodation is not ideal. This is one vision of Shalom, which is perhaps most pronounced by the persona of Aharon Ha-Kohen, the Biblical Aaron, who was a master peacemaker among disputing parties, even when one party may have been of the conviction that standing its ground on principle was truly justifiable.

And there is another variety of compromise – ideological compromise – denoted by acceding to a belief or approach which contravenes one’s stated values. In such a case, the compromise is not merely of a practical nature, but is rather a reflection of one or both of the parties actually changing values, or of shifting away, to whatever degree, from the original values that were claimed.

The Western Wall Compromise places before us both of these types of compromise – and they both vest in those who identify themselves as representing Orthodox Judaism.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, chaired by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the “Rabbi of the Wall”, along with Orthodox members of the Israeli government, entered into a pragmatic compromise this past winter relating to the demand by non-Orthodox groups for non-Orthodox/non-halachic prayer at the Western Wall. Realizing that the heterodox forces were too considerable and mighty to surmount or dismiss, and perhaps sensing that peace and relative religious tranquility were within reach, the Orthodox parties agreed to the Western Wall Compromise, which safeguarded most of the Western Wall tefilla (prayer) area from breach of tradition, while providing for alternative, non-Orthodox services in an adjacent designated location, spanning a relatively small area of the Wall. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate, among many other groups, was not happy about this, but for those Orthodox parties who signed onto the deal, it was a compromise that secured the most essential thing: continued traditional Orthodox prayer at the vast majority of the Western Wall, including the ban on heterodox services and women’s Torah reading there.

As we know, implementation of the Western Wall Compromise has been delayed. This delay was the focus of a protest by over 100 heterodox activists last week, in which they – in violation of the status quo – carried Sifrei Torah to the women’s section for a Rosh Chodesh service. But now, there is a new party that has sided with the heterodox groups:

International Rabbinic Fellowship, which is led by Open Orthodox male and female clergy, has just issued a statement calling for implementation of the Western Wall Compromise. Were the sentiments of the statement reflective of a pragmatic compromise, this article would not have been written. Instead, IRF explained:

The plan, which like any compromise, can be improved upon (e.g. creating a space for Orthodox women’s groups that do not want to engage in full egalitarian prayer but do want to read from the Torah) is a positive step forward to making the Kotel a public place where all Jews can experience the presence of the Divine according to the dictates of their conscience.

In other words, all types of prayer are appropriate for experiencing the presence of the Divine – even if such prayer violates Halacha; and such non-halachic prayer is to be sanctioned and even defended or promoted. IRF is not supporting the Western Wall Compromise merely in an effort to keep the peace or preserve the proper halachic character at the main Western Wall area; rather, IRF is endorsing the legitimacy of non-halachic conduct, “making the Kotel a public place where all Jews can experience the presence of the Divine according to the dictates of their conscience.”

Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah is a liberal Orthodox Israeli group, whose governance is in large measure comprised of some of the most prominent leaders of Open Orthodoxy. Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, which is a grantee of the New Israel Fund (whose agenda is notoriously non-traditional and is often inimical to Orthodoxy), has undertaken a comprehensive campaign to promote the Western Wall Compromise and lobby for its swift implementation, as reported here.

The Jewish Press article features a link to a YNet video, in which Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who is on the boards of YCT, Yeshivat Maharat and Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, states that:

Judaism as a whole and the Western Wall in particular are too important and precious to be left in the sole possession of Orthodox Jews.

And in an article just published in Haaretz, another Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah leader advocating for implementation of the Western Wall Compromise presents halachic and hashkafic arguments for such:

Rabbinic literature teaches us that Jerusalem was not apportioned among the tribes of Israel. When the Israelites entered the land after 40 years of wandering in the desert, and each tribe received its inheritance and portion of land, a different status is assigned to Jerusalem. It doesn’t belong to any tribe, because it belongs to all the tribes. A kind of Jerusalem D.C., if you want. This status is not just rhetorical, or a spiritual metaphor. It is established in Jewish law and has concrete implications, for instance in the religious adjudication of property ownership in the city and on leases, such as when two parties have rights to a plot of land, since Jerusalem belongs to everyone. porno izle

Jerusalem, in the Jewish tradition, is not just another place. It’s a place that has a purpose: to connect heaven and earth, divine and human, eternal and temporary. And to be the heart of the Jewish people. A people with the same purpose, of creating connections. If Jerusalem were to belong to one tribe, one group, it would be incapable of serving its purpose.

Jerusalem, and certainly its holy places, does not belong to the ultra-Orthodox nor to the Orthodox nor to any other group within the Jewish people. It belongs to the entire Jewish people, and there must be room in it for all of us.

Yes, Jerusalem belongs to the entire Jewish People, but there is a vast difference between accommodating in order to keep peace and between heartily promoting and extolling the propriety of people to engage in conduct that constitutes Torah violation, by creating halachic and hashkafic rationales to try to persuade readers that the Western Wall Compromise is mandated by the Torah. Pragmatic compromise versus ideological compromise.

We may at times compromise, but God forbid that such compromise represent to us an embrace or an earnest sanctioning of religious conduct or values that desecrate the Torah. Once a compromise of values is made, we forfeit our claim to be truly Torah/Orthodox Jews.

In a 1968 derasha on this week’s parsha, delivered to RIETS Rabbinic Alumni (published here on pages 113-119), Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l explained:

It’s very interesting that whenever, with one exception… the Avos (Patriarchs) built mizbechos (altars)… it’s never mentioned that the Avos ever offered a live sacrifice. It’s only twice mentioned… Apparently, by the other mizbechos, no zevachim (animals) were offered, no korbonos (sacrifices)…

Apparently, the mizbe’ach of the Avos was not for the purpose of offering a live sacrifice. The mizbe’ach symbolized submission, their own surrender. Because the highest sacrifice is not when you offer an animal… The highest sacrifice is when man offers himself.

What do I mean “offers himself”?…

Yes, physical human sacrifice was rejected, but spiritual human sacrifice – submission and surrender, acceptance of God’s will, to abide by His will even if His will sometimes runs contrary to our aspirations, His will sometimes makes no sense to us…

And that’s what Avrohom taught himself, and he taught others… Whom did he sacrifice? His own independence, his own pride, his own comfort, his own desires, his own logic, his own reasons. He believed. If one believes, it is an act of surrender, sacrifice…

Jewish unity is precious, and concern for our brethren is priceless. But surrendering to the Torah’s dictates, rather than defending and even embracing approaches that violate the Torah, is a sine qua non, as much as we may feel that it is not in the spirit of concern for our brethren and the expression of solidarity with them toward the fulfillment of their aspirations.

The Western Wall Compromise was a tough decision for the Orthodox parties that agreed to it, but it was for them a compromise for the sake of preservation and pragmatics, rather than a championing of egalitarian/heterodox values. To champion such values means to forsake our Torah values; one cannot honestly affirm the Torah while sincerely supporting its violation.

Although this is some of the latest “news” about Open Orthodox controversy, I was asked by numerous readers to present a broad update on the subject in general. I do not anticipate writing about Open Orthodoxy any more on a regular or even an irregular basis (but I will speak out should issues arise that demand a response); nonetheless, as requested by readers, here is a brief recap of some important issues relating to Open Orthodoxy since I last wrote about it several months ago:

There is plenty more.

May we take the lessons of Avrohom Avinu to heart and submit our will to God’s will. Such submission and surrender is the only authentic path to a Torah life and Torah values.


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16 Responses

  1. Daniel Goldman says:

    Rabbi Gordimer,

    I am reminded of the words of Rabbi Dr Lamm, who during an interview in 2007 said:

    “When I was in the rabbinate … I used to pound the pulpit and storm against Conservative and Reform and secular ideas and practices. In retrospect I think it may have been the wrong approach … The only thing that happened as a result of all these anti-Conservative/ Reform/secular groups is that we have less people davening [praying].”

    The all out hostility to Reform and Conservative Judaism (the current bon ton amongst Israel Haredi and parts of the non-Haredi religious leadership is ultimately counter-productive.) The religious Rabbis, and much of the religious (non-Haredi) community that supports the accommodation of heterodox prayer at the Kotel does not come from ideological compromise, but an understanding that the State of Israel is the home (as it constantly states) to Jews everywhere, and as such needs to accommodate their expressions of Judaism.

    There is a great deal of disingenuity implied or real, when the government sponsors three years of negotiations with the Haredi leaders, that agreement (which includes compromise from all sides) being approved by the government, only to be reneged upon.

    Whilst I have much to criticise in the tone of the way Haredi MK’s and others refer to Reform and Conservative Jews and their movements, the main criticism should be of the Prime Minister who is trying to have his cake and eat it.

    What is also clear to me (and this is only a tactical comment), that Rabbi Rabinowitz has done all he can to create a public platform for the likes of Anat Hoffman et al to become international figures, after more than 20 years when the WOW were a small and frankly irrelevant group who showed up once a month to pray at the Kotel.

    Seeing Rabbi Rabinowitz’s orderlies scuffling physically with the leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements as they held Sifrei Torah gave me an amazing up to date view on how holy Jews in times gone by fought with one another, missing the much bigger picture.

    I was saddened by this display, and this without expressing a personal view on what I think that solution should be (this has already been agreed between the heteredox movements and the Haredim as mentioned).

    Your attempt to make this an adjunct argument about your pet subject of Open Orthodoxy is marginal as it is shallow.

    • R.B. says:

      Alright, Daniel. Let’s say that you are correct that “pounding the pulpit” about the heterodox movements is counterproductive. Let’s say that we ignore WoW’s rejection of the compromise and say the blame for the collapse of this agreement falls on the shoulder of the chareidim and Bibi. Would you agree then that while attacks are not productive, so gushing “halachic” and “hashkafic” support given by the IRF and Neemanei TvA is also the wrong approach as well? Why can’t silence, or support for the deal without support for the heterdox’s approach to public tefillah and women’s roles in public tefillah be the approach? Also, OO is very much connected, as the IRF is the OO’s rabbinic arm and Neemanei TvA has many OO in its ranks, and wholly represent a partner of thought prevalent among OO leaders and their approach to the heterodox, thereby invalidating your comment.

    • mycroft says:

      We should adapt the approach of the Rav that Conservative, Reform are mistaken rather than evil. One never succeeds by attacking another’s motives.

  2. dr. bill says:

    Four points:

    1) Among those criticizing chareidi blackmail blocking the implementation of a compromise is Beit Hillel.  Take them on at your own risk; their members contain some critical thinkers.

    2)  Rabbi Benny Lau chose a woman without semicha, but a teacher at Migdal Oz  (gush for girls) to minister to those in his congregation more comfortable talking to a woman.  Yesh al mi lismoch.

    3) Quoting a drasha by the Rav ztl whose relevance is rather indirect at best convinces no one.  the Rav was in favor and opposed to various things; would he maintain those views in all circumstances in today’s environment?  Few are qualified to even venture a guess.

    4) I too do not feel comfortable with a bus on shabbat morning, but i assume there may be some ancillary reasons to choose that timing to engage with those who are not at all sabbath observing.   I would probably still be opposed but the logic of the decision would be worth hearing. BTW, there is another shabbat observing event scheduled for those who are observant.

    • mycroft says:

      It is very interesting the details of how Rabbi Benny Lau succeeded step by step in getting an assistant in and then shift it to be a woman. I have heard her speak and she is not in the league of Rabbi Lau. Never underestimate R Lau’s political skills his father was a leading diplomat for Israel including serving as their chief diplomat in NY.


  3. Bob Miller says:

    Were they out partying when the rest of us said Na’aseh v’Nishma?

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    R Gordimer deserves a great Yasher Koach for continually reminding and demonstrating the danger and increasing growth of the extreme POVs of OO, as its slowly but surely infects both MO and RZ ala RL a Trojan horse.  Dr Bill and I have discussed and disagreed as to our perspectives on Beit Hillel, and I remain unchanged in my POV that the above cited views of R Riskin, whose evolution in  hashkafa and views we have previously discussed  and IRF are apologetics, nothing more nothing less.,rather than public statements or private stances that are sacrificial, because they  show a lack of  “submission and surrender, acceptance of God’s will, to abide by His will even if His will sometimes runs contrary to our aspirations, His will sometimes makes no sense to us…” to use a perfectly appropriate observation of RYBS. Indeed, if we were to apply Dr Bill’s litmus test of “the Rav was in favor and opposed to various things; would he maintain those views in all circumstances in today’s environment” would leave us with a reductio ad absurdum that precious little, if any of RYBS’s legacy, except for the contents of his library in Boston was relevant to such issues.

    Daniel Goldman-Anat Hoffman is interested in media events and has a studied lack of tolerance for Torah Judaism and Torah observant Jews-regardless of their headgear. Ms. Hoffman has continuously used the Israeli judicial system and an appeal to R and  C in the US whose views have been rejected by traditional Jews who are “not yet observant”, to use R Riskin’s phrase.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    Many malignant tumors and infectious diseases invade the host organism very slowly but in an incremental manner until the host is overwhelmed due to its inability and unwillingness to fight the same. When one recalls Rambam’s view in Shemoneh Perakim that one must fight the root cause of Cholei HaNefesh rather than apply purely palliative treatment of the same if one is truly interested in a cure, one can and should apply this fact  in how one views  the acceptance of radical ideas and ideology in institutions of all kinds where the radical ideas prior thereto would have been deemed unacceptable and beyond the pale.  MO and RZ are increasingly under siege by radical egalitarian feminism, which RHS rightly and courageously recognized as a threat to the central institution of Torah observant Judaism-the family, which feminists initially conducted an end around against by seeking innovations in ritual and education that merely staved off the inevitable assault on the family, which feminists have always viewed and still view as a “comfortable concentration camp”, and the Halacha and the Ratzon HaTorah that set forth separate and equal roles for the genders. What a tragedy and a pity that R Riskin and the IRF have sold out MO and RZ and the distinction between Klapei Chutz and Klapei Pnim for the ideological bowl of pottage called “pluralism.”

    • Daniel Goldman says:

      Steve, I have the greatest respect for Rav Riskin and know personally and respect many of the members of Beit Hillel. I am sure they act L’Sheim Shamaim and are doing what they feel is right in trying to enhance the Jewish identity of the country as a whole. I would say that the complexities of developing Judaism in Israel, which can and should have room for halachic and non-halachic Judaism in a way that makes the country more rather than less Jewish in the broadest possible terms needs more than a response in a comments section on a blog. Would recommend for example Yoav Sorek’s ברית ישראלית as a good reader. The increasing control by Haredi askanim of the definition of Judaism in Israel, through the deepening of their grip ironically using the power of the secular State (including now a clear strategy of narrowing that definition of Judaism in the Diaspora (Re: Recent farce around Rabbi Lookstein) is just distancing more people for Judaism of any sort, in Israel and out of it. Many see the controversy of the Kotel on the same backdrop. Sadly there is a great difficulty separating the religion from the politics (nothing knew over here).

      In any event and with the greatest respect I am unable to have a proper discussion with anyone that compares sincere Jews to cancer or the mentally ill, so perhaps we should call it quits at this stage.


      • R.B. says:

        Yoav Sorek is definately not somebody the DL community should be listening to. His proposed changes to Israeli religious society, including the scrapping of the Rabbanut, will eventually allow for the pushing of specific Orthodox Jewish halachic concerns and opposition to societal trends to the margins and could lead to the situation found in the US and here in Canada – religious conservatives on the run, not able to protect their institutions from the encroachment of liberal lobbies, making religious conservatives 2nd class citizens. I used to believe that the Rabbanut and religious parties were preventing the growth of Yiddishkeit in EY. Now, I see that we need both, especially when there is an agenda to allow homosexual marriage and the like, and that such moves to the left will result in frum Yidden being unable to make their institutions exempt when these legal rights collide. The Rabbanut, if it does nothing else, is a bulwak against the complete dismantling of halachoh and traditional Judaism’s role in informing the laws and institutions of the State of Israel.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I stand by my post in its entirety, and note that you are unable to separate concerns of Klapei Pnim from Klapei Chutz and the failure of R and C to make any headway in Israel except via headlines at the Kotel-would you advocate similar tactics in Rome or Mecca against those in charge therein? I would hope not . R Riskin’s ( IMO tragic) migration from being a founding rav who created a community and set the mark for Torah education in the UWS and a great rebbe in YU’s JS   to the far LW of MO and RZ  needs no further documentation.

        I have read much at the website of Beit Hillel and I challenge you to find one world class Talmid Chacham and Posek among them, As far as The “farce around Rabbi Lookstein”, prior comments here demonstrated that the same was not a GPS approved Gerus.

      • dr. bill says:

        are you serious? do you not know the name of the individual responsible for editing much of RAL ztl’s publications?  and there are others!  In any event, traditional judaism is not a hero worship culture; the deliberate judgement of a group of scholars outweighs the pronouncement of an authority.

        btw, there were rabbis whose actions are to be respected prior to GPS approved conversions.  i missed the seif in the SA about GPS.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Obviously, the editor of RAL ZTL’s publications is a great talmid chacham-that does not answer my query-whether such a person is a world class Talmid Chacham and Posek. I think that such phrases as the”deliberate judgement of a group of scholars outweighs the pronouncement of an authority” don’t really add a whole lot to the discussion especially when we are commanded to revere Talmidei Chachamim with as much respect and awe, if  not more than a Sefer Torah. Perhaps, you should listen to shiurim from dayanim in the BDA about the lack of a standard for Gerus and the lack of compliance with many portions of Hilcos Gerus and many other portions of SA that existed prior to the promulgation of GPS that have practical ramifications on Hilcos Gerus before you castigate the GPS system. 

      • dr. bill says:

        tell me where i castigated the GPS system?  in fact i emphasized “rabbis whose actions are to be respected” NOT ALL rabbis.

        Have you read his seforim?  he is (more than) comparable to many you venerate.

        if you don’t understand on what critical halakha “judgement of a group” is based and what it adds to the conversation, zil gemor.

      • mycroft says:

        There are honest Rabbis and Rabbis who are not trustworthy. GPS is no guarantee, the leading Rabbi who was one of the heads of the system is serving time in jail for violations which are certainly against Halacha.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    Ignoring the obvious-namely, that OO has infected much of MO and RZ thought can only be justified  if you ignore the facts on the ground and the views propagated by those with such views in the LW MO and RZ worlds.

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