Over the past few days, weeks, and months, there’s been an intensifying fight – both in reality and across media/social media – between Women of the Wall Nashot HaKotel and Women For The Wall. True, others have been a part of it. However, my interest is on these two groups, both groups that are in a sense “saving the Wall.” By “Wall,” I refer to the Kotel HaMa’aravi, better known as the Kotel or Western Wall, a part of the original western wall that surrounded the courtyard of the Beit Hamikdash, the Jewish Holy Temple.
What makes this fight so fascinating is the context and responses. I’ve been called a “Jewish terrorist” among other comments. Now, this “Jewish terrorist” is by no means an accolade, meant to praise me along the likes of Biblical Samson. Instead, the comment is that I’m a Jew, hell-bent on terrorizing the “real Jewish people” as one Facebook message put it. Or another, convinced that I’m a self-hating Jew. The most bearable comments simply said that I’ve never learned Torah or was on the payroll of the New Israel Fund. All this for my basic support for one of the groups.
But I’m not here to continue to stoke that (though I’m sure the comments will disagree). I’m here to wonder how we got to this point. How is it possible that a group that seemingly wants the right to pray and a group that seemingly wants to protect the sanctity of the Kotel are making headlines, bickering, fighting, causing the diversion of hundreds of police officers, etc.?
As we mourn tonight/tomorrow on Tisha B’Av, I was contemplating about what the situation must have felt like here in the Land of Israel, 1,943 years ago. Though the history books are scant on details, the Talmud does fill us in on much of the gaps. There were two primary camps, the “Pragmatists” and the “Zealots.” On paper, the Zealots may look great. There they were, fighting the Romans with all they had. Yet the Talmud speaks about them in such a derogatory manner. Why? Perhaps, we can glean some our understanding from the preeminent leader of the day, Rabbi Yochana ben Zakkai. While he disagreed with the Zealots, arguing that peace was needed, he remained in the Land. However, when the Zealots began turning on their brethren who philosophically disagree with them, he could take it no more, and arranged an escape from the besieged land.
What brought down the first Temple? The three cardinal sins: murder, idolatry, and sexual immorality. The second? Baseless hatred. The Talmud teaches that baseless hatred is therefore equated to all three. The Talmud then asks – why “baseless” hatred? The answer: to teach that all hatred against a fellow Jew is baseless. Accordingly, the downfall of the Zealots – they were butchered mercilessly by the conquering Romans – was due to their utter lack of “ahavat chinam” (“baseless” love) towards their co-coreligionists.
Today, we find ourselves at a potential crossroads. Perhaps the final redemption is just around the corner. Or perhaps we’ll be taken farther away from it. Just 70 years ago, had someone proclaimed to the Jewish people that the Messiah was almost here, I’m sure one would’ve laughed. But had that same proclamation been made in 1948, and certainly in 1967, that comment would’ve been much more practical, and less theoretical. Today, people seem unsure. As a practicality, it certainly seems plausible. The Jewish people have been fulfilling the prophecies of Jeremiah with the return to the Land of Israel for the past 100 years. But as a nation, things just aren’t the same. How much of the lessons of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai have we internalized?
You may wonder why I brought up the two groups of Women of/for the Wall. On paper, perhaps this seems like a noble fight. But in practicality, is it? Is it worth the mudslinging? All for what? To be able to protect the sanctity of a place that has no intrinsic holiness in Judaism? (Some may argue that it does – the point is that the Kotel isn’t specifically a holy site. What’s made it holy is the volume of prayer there. Before the Temple’s destruction, the plaza outside the courtyard was holy in terms of proximity, nothing else.) Instead, we should be working together. Our collective fight is just meters away. It’s not at the Kotel. It’s just beyond the Kotel on Har Habayit. We need to fight together for that. And I don’t just mean by lobbying the Knesset and the police to allow freedom of access and prayer. Sure that’s nice. But that’s not even close to our ultimate goal.
While it may seem difficult, with the way the two groups seemingly interact, (or don’t,) with the calling of Religious Zionists “Amalek” by a leading Shas rabbi just this week, prospects may seem dim. But we shan’t give up! Rabba Yohanan ben Zakkai gave up on his generation, but he did something else. He made so many laws in order that the people be prepared for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash. He knew it would be rebuilt. Let’s all work together and realize his foresight from thousands of years ago. Instead of looking to stigmatize each other, let’s work together so that tomorrow, Women of the Wall and Women for the Wall are praying, side by side, not at the Kotel, but in the courtyard of our Holy Temple!