Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Prayer at the Western Wall



Yehuda Shlezinger, in Israel Hayom, 12 December 2016, reports that, after many years of arguments and physical clashes about non-orthodox prayer at the Kotel, and current dabate about the construction of a separate egalitarian prayer plaza...
MKs from Shas and United Torah Judaism, along with lawmakers from Habayit Hayehudi and Likud, presented the Knesset with a bill that would codify the status of the Western Wall in terms of Jewish law.
This issue reminds me of a debate we had in our local Habonim va'ad, about 45 years ago. The issue on the table was: should Habonim camps and events be kosher catered? 

There were those who argued that Habonim is not a religious movement and most members were not shomrei Shabbat, so kosher catering was not necessary... and why should the few observant members dictate that all the others should eat kosher?

The alternative argument was: we want to be inclusive; we want every Jew to be able to attend Habo; we want them to feel welcome. So obviously we must provide kosher catering. So then we considered providing kosher catering just for those members who requested it, and not for the rest. However this would be divisive. If we entertained a group of people in our home, would we serve kosher food to some guests and something different to others? Would that be hospitable?

In conclusion we decided that all Habo camps and events would be kosher. We wanted no-one to stay away because they couldn't eat together with their chaverim. It was no trouble to those who were otherwise not so observant, to eat kosher once in a while. 

Similarly, it's no trouble to those who pray in a different way, to observe othodox traditions when they visit an orthodox shul. When non-Jewish dignitaries visit the Perth Hebrew Congregation, the men wear kippot, the women sit with the women, and they participate respectfully. They may quietly pray in they own way if inspired to do so, but they don't disrupt our service in order to do so.

When I visit a church, Hindu Temple or a progressive liberal Jewish synagogue, I also try to behave respectfully in accordance with the minhag of that community, by removing my shoes, standing when the congregation stands etc etc, even though I may not answer amen...

The Kotel is an orthodox shul. It's as close that we can get to the Temple itself, where the prayer services were always conducted in accordance with ancient, orthodox Jewish tradition. When I take non-Jewish visitors there, the men wear the paper kippot offered, the women go the women's side of the mechitza, and they act respectfully. I've seen many of them become quite emotional and overwhelmed by the spirit of the place and quietly pray in they own way , but they don't disrupt the prayers of others in order to do so.

So what is the need for Women of the Wall and the progressive Jewish movements to invade and disrupt orthodox prayer at the Kotel? Why can they not observe basic courtesy and respect for the minhagim of others? Would they also invade orthodox shuls or Hindu Temples? If they're so overcome with spritual fervour at the Kotel, why don't they go up to Har Habayit and disrupt the Mosque services up there?

And if they really MUST set themselves apart, rather than respect the minhag of the place (like sitting at the one table but eating different food) then, in February, the Israeli Cabinet set aside a place for non-orthodox prayer. The plan was to build a permanent mixed-gender prayer area where a temporary non-orthodox prayer platform is today, and to create a new entrance to the Western Wall area so both Orthodox and non-Orthodox prayer areas will be given equal prominence. Why aren't Women of the Wall etc prepared to accept that (albeit divisive, but) egalitarian plan? Why must they dominate? WHY DO THEY WANT TO INVADE THEIR FELLOW JEWS, BUT ARE NOT PREPARED TO CONFRONT THE ENEMIES OF ISRAEL?

I sympathise with those in the Knesset who say enough is enough. I don't like the fact that it's come to this: that Jews quarrel amongst themselves, while a sea of turmoil surrounds the nation, which faces existential threats from hordes of sworn enemies. But if the progressives refuse compromise and insist on dominance, then yes, the Knesset should  go ahead and 
"..create vital order at the most holy site to the Jewish people and regulate its status under Jewish law. It is unacceptable that this place, which the holy spirit never leaves, which generations of Jews longed for, [has] become a place of shameful clashes and offense to the millions of Jews who visit it...."
Preferable, please, let us unite and respect eachother, without trying to impose ourselves on others.
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