Last week, on this site, Rabbi Joshua Hammerman wrote about a group that “has been denied the basic right that every Jewish group should have: the opportunity to pray peacefully at Judaism’s holiest site.” After quoting a letter of complaint from a congregant in full, he asks rhetorically:
What craziness guides the thinking of supposedly sane men, who blindly follow what they misconstrue to be God’s wishes? How long will the politicians endorse extremism and tolerate hate?
Similarly, Anat Hoffman is currently touring North America. She has elicited sympathy and outrage when she describes how “one cannot perform a religious act that offends the feelings of others” at the site.
“Israel is allowing a small minority of extremists to dictate how things should be run in Israel,” she concludes.
I agree with both of them. I think that Jews should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, a practice that is currently forbidden by the Waqf, the Muslim religious authority that controls the Mount.
Of course, Hoffman and Hammerman were not writing about the Temple Mount. They wrote in favor of allowing women to worship in the way they see fit — including carrying and reading from the Torah and donning tallit and tefilin — at the Kotel, the Western Wall.
In truth, I also agree (as an Orthodox rabbi) with Hoffman and Hammerman about the Women of the Wall.
But I feel very lonely.
There are groups that advocate for allowing Jews to pray on the Temple Mount (I am not referring to those in favor of rebuilding the Temple on the site currently occupied by the Dome of the Rock), and there are groups that advocate for greater freedom of Jewish worship at the Kotel. But it seems that despite the similarity of the rhetoric deployed in support of both positions, each group tends to apply these rights and freedoms selectively. If there is going to be equal and just application of freedom of worship, it seems that the Temple Mount Faithful and the Women of the Wall may have to get together. Strange bedfellows indeed!
Israel’s current policy of granting control of these holy sites to intolerant religious bodies is, at the very least, consistent. The government does not want to risk major disturbances by tampering with the status quo. The only way that the government will ever budge from its comfort zone, the only way that the patronage of religious bodies will yield to greater application of liberal democratic principles, is if these different groups, which are often at odds, form a coalition, transcend their special interests, and truly advocate for these freedoms to be applied universally.