Note: The following d’var Torah was written by my friend, Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, Vice-President of the Union for Reform Judaism on Israel and Reform Zionism and President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). This week marks the 30th anniversary of Women of the Wall and their peaceful prayer was interrupted by violence from the Ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem.
The unfolding drama this week takes us to the center focus point for all Jews from time immemorial. Reports of angry mobs showing up to kick, fight, spit at, and rip off the tallitot and kippot of those coming to pray and celebrate with the Women of the Wall on the occasion of their 30th anniversary, filled the air of the Western Wall plaza this morning. Rabbi Noa Sattath left bloodied but unbowed, and Yizhar Hess, head of the Israeli Conservative (Masorti) Movement wrote that in “ten years of praying at the Kotel each Rosh Hodesh, he had never seen such hatred, such violence, and such rage in their eyes.”
The drama has been at this place, and at this exact place on earth, for three-thousand years. In fact, it is this week that we read in the Haftarah of Parshat Pekudei (Kings I Chapters 7-8) about that moment when King Solomon built his Temple.
בָּנֹ֥ה בָנִ֛יתִי בֵּ֥ית זְבֻ֖ל לָ֑ךְ מָכ֥וֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ֖ עוֹלָמִֽים׃ (מלכים א’ ח:יג)
“I have now built for You a stately House, A place where You May dwell forever.” (Kings I 8:13)
This was the place that was meant to be for worship, for pilgrimage and as the single symbol meant to unify our people. The Temple Mount is the single most important symbol that we have as a people. It served as the focal point for all of Jewish society while it stood, and its memory served as the most important force in keeping us alive during our centuries of exile.
The term Zionism was coined (c. 1890) to connect directly to the memory of the Temple in Jerusalem as the last time we had sovereignty in our Land. It was also to say that the establishment of a Jewish sovereign political entity would, in fact, be the Third Commonwealth, the Third Temple.
After the 1967 Six-Day War, when the famous 3 words roused the entire Jewish world “הר הבית בידינו” “The Temple Mount is in Our Hands,” we then had sovereignty over the remnants of our ancient site. Soon after it again became a point of contention. The Israeli government and the antiquities authorities could have turned the area surrounding the Temple Mount into a historical/archeological preservation site, and place of pilgrimage, a ceremonial plaza, and tourist attraction like Massada, Tziporri, Gamla, and many more. But instead, it became an Orthodox synagogue. Yes, Jews have been praying there since we had access, and yes it was a mystical custom to place a note in the cracks of the wall, but no other site became an officially sanctioned prayer space like this one.
The significance of the Temple Mount is more than just a place of prayer. It in fact symbolizes the national struggle and for some is a symbol for national liberty.
Philosopher Tomer Persico wrote in 2014:
“Make no mistake – this is not about untrammeled longing for the burning of sacrifices. It is neither the observation of the biblical commandment nor the upholding of the Halakhic stricture that matter to these Knesset Members, even the religious ones among them. The Temple Mount serves Regev, Feiglin, Edelstein, and Elkin as a national flag around which to rally. The location of the Temple to them is nothing more than a capstone in the national struggle against the Palestinians, and the sovereignty over the mountain becomes a totem embodying the sovereignty over the entire country in its commanding figure”
And today, it became once again a place of senseless hatred, of rage, of violence, a place where Jews showed up to fight and to prevent their fellow Jews from welcoming this happiest of months.
Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz appealed to the groups saying, “that the Western Wall plaza is not a… demonstration area and asked [for attendees] to refrain from provocations, and to guard the Western Wall as a unified place, and not a place of division.”
“On Rosh Chodesh Adar II (Friday), I urge everyone to refrain from bringing their war to the Wall,” he said. “Please – the Western Wall is not a platform for ideas and not a platform for holding demonstrations.”
Oh, the irony. Not a platform for ideas??? Huh?
This is the exact spot where Hillel and Shammai argued, where our sages sat in the Sanhedrin, where Christians attribute some of the most important actions of Jesus, the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven (according to Islam). Not a place for ideas???
If you don’t want demonstrations Rabbi Rabinowitz then please call on the leaders of your movement, and movements such as Hazon (not the Jewish environmental organization) who placed a fake front page newspaper showing that “The Reform Jews Have Conquered the Kotel” and calling on everyone to show up this morning to rescue it. Call on those who spit, rip clothing and tallitot, and physically assault fellow Jews that this is not a platform for holding demonstrations.
Just imagine that today, on the beginning of the month of Adar II, the authorities of the Western Wall said “Today we are commanded to be happy, and we welcome you with open arms! Today, we realize that you are not a threat to our form of Judaism, and you are just trying to pray and exalt God’s name like we are! Please come, read the word of the living God, and rejoice in this most joyful of days.”
Just imagine what would happen if so many people were praying and dancing and singing and celebrating that they didn’t even notice a couple of hundred women coming to this holiest of spots.
Now, there is great debate among us, even in the Reform Movement about the place, significance, and efforts around the Kotel. Some say it’s insignificant, and some say it is.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall shared with us this pearl of wisdom in his drasha on this weeks’ Torah portion today: “But ongoing and persistent action has the power to create real change in someone’s life.”
Thank you, Rabbi, that is sound advice.