Few us can forget the vice presidential debate when Senator Lloyd Bensen turned to Dan Quale and said those immortal words. “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” These words echo in my ears as I read the column of my friend Laura Geller drawing a comparison between Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Segel and Anat Hoffman.
Moshe Segal was a patriot and a passionate Jew. As a young man he blew the Shofar at the wall when banned by the British, a story that has become a legend of Jewish pride and resistance. He was a Chassid of great passion, conducted the wedding of Prime Minister Shamir, fought in resistance during the mandate and was the first Jew to live in the Old City after the Six Day War. I met him as young Yeshiva student at that time. He was living on a cot in a room filled with rubble in the historic Chabad synagogue in the Jewish quarter. Even in the sunset of his life he stood up for Jewish principle. I remember his son in law telling me about his last years that he was “trying to keep the prime minister on the straight and narrow.”
Here lies the guts of the divide between me and my associate Reform Rabbi Geller. No question there is a theological divide that stands between us, but at the same time we are connected by the fact we are Jews with a deep feeling for Judaism. Personally I cannot support the Kotel compromise since in my heart I cannot condone a religious service that does not reflect the values of Halacha. At the same time I understand the great passion liberal Jews like Laura feel for Jerusalem and Israel. They are struggling to see their values reflected in Israel. The question is, are they fighting for their ideals or against the classical principles of Jewish tradition tradition?
It seems that Anat Hoffman is fighting against those ideals. Her goals are to transform Judaism in Israel. As she said in speech in Florida, she wants the mechiza – the dividers – removed from the Kotel plaza for much of the day and it turned national monument. Jews like Moshe Tzvi Segal, who steadfastly stood by Jewish tradition are degraded and derided by her as ultra and fundamentalist. Instead of promoting, teaching and explaining her values in a peaceful fashion, she seeks confrontation. She degrades Israel in the world press and a place of repression and lacking religious freedom. She leads legal efforts of the Reform movement in Israel to impose their views by judicial fiat. It seems that her prime interest is the latest confrontation, the latest headline.
Because her goals are change and her tools are confrontation, she rejected the latest suggested compromise and organized a sit-in at the Kotel. The symbol of sanctity and unity was transformed into a protest. Jerusalem is not Selma, this is not a battle for rights. It is an effort to undermine thousands of years of tradition reaching back to the days of King Solomon. Tradition that Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Segal treasured.
No Laura, I knew Moshe Segal, and Anat Hoffman is no Moshe Segal.