Today is Tisha B’Av the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. Last night, together with multitudes of Jews in Israel of all denominations and religious backgrounds, I made my way to the remains of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Amidst visibly tight security thousands of Jews converged to the Western Wall to commemorate the destruction of the Temple almost two millennia ago.

Initially I decided to visit the egalitarian section of the Wall by Robinson’s Arch. As I stood at the entrance for the security check a bunch of Ultra Orthodox men stood and verbally abused the “Reform Jews, cursed be their name who are destroying Judaism.” People entering had to run this gamut of cursing.

I then attended a beautiful reading of the book of Eicha “Lamentations” by both men and women and an address by the daughter of one of the victims of the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Argentina calling for an end to hatred. The service was dignified, spiritual and powerful as it took place on the very street Jews walked to the Temple, together as families, in the first century. The ancient words of destruction and mourning and hope for the future were read amidst the massive stones toppled to the Street two millennia ago by the Roman Tenth legion. Tisha B’Av Frozen in time in the year 70 CE.

9 Av Kotel Egal

Tisha B’Av at Robinson’s Arch.  Photo © T. Book, 2016

After that service I went to the tumult of the “other Wall,” the Western Wall Plaza. The first thing I noticed, besides the minuscule woman’s section, is that the separation barriers have been extended the Plaza itself. Until now this had been a place for every one of both sexes to mingle. In addition, the barriers behind the Wall have been made even higher. Instead of being a place of inclusiveness these physical barriers create the opposite environment.

Rabbi Natan Lopes Cardozo observed that:

The Kotel is not a synagogue. It never was a synagogue and should never become one. It is a place where we Jews can meet, pray and share what we have in common instead of focusing on what divides us. Where we can smile at each other and laugh about ourselves, even when we vehemently disagree.

Next year we will celebrate the 50th Jerusalem Day. Anyone who was alive at the time will remember the emotional euphoria after hearing the famous three words in Hebrew “Har Habayit Beyadeinu” (“The Temple Mount is in our hands”) uttered by Lt. General Motta Gur, the commander of the division that penetrated the Old City of Jerusalem. The iconic photo of the three paratroopers and the scenes barely a week later when multitudes of Jews from Israel and the Diaspora ascended to the Wall to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot are seared into our Zionist and Jewish consciousness. The multitudes in 1967 after the reunification of Jerusalem did not find a Mechitza or an Ultra Orthodox controlled Wall. Rather they found a “Wall for all.”

Now nearly half a century later the Times of Israel reported that the plan approved by the Knesset to recognise the right of non-Orthodox affiliated and Open-Egalitarian Orthodox Jews to be able to pray at the holiest site for the Jewish people unmolested, with dignity and honour is coming under pressure by Ultra Orthodox members of the ruling coalition should be a cause of grave concern. The decision, passed in January, was long overdue and should be much welcomed. The Wall has for too long been under the exclusive control of the Ultra-Orthodox faction of Judaism and has not been a Wall for all Jews.

One of the possible prime reasons for the phenomenon of secular Israeli’s disinterestedness and disconnectedness from religious ritual practice could be what amounts to a de facto detachment between the majority of the State of Israel’s Jewish population to its religious Jewish establishment. There is tremendous antipathy they feel, as secular Zionist Israelis, toward the State’s rabbinate. They view the rabbinate as a bastion of Ultra-Orthodox, non-Zionist, non-IDF serving “men in black,” who alienate the majority of their potential constituents by being both incredibly out of touch and openly antagonistic toward any lifestyle that does not respond to their own. As Daniel Gordis observed:

Israel’s rabbinate lives as if the rabbinic hegemony over Jewish communities continues unchanged from the Middle Ages, as if the Enlightenment and Emancipation had not yet arrived.

The tiny women’s section, which is a fraction of the size of the adjacent men’s section, is an insult to women. The proposed opening of the Western Wall extension will be a huge step in redressing this situation. Prime-Minister Netanyahu’s support of what is known as the “Sharansky Plan” to extend the plaza of the Western Wall to include egalitarian services and services where women will be free to pray aloud and read from the Torah without fear from harassment was a welcome and positive step to making the holiest site of the Jewish people a place of tolerance, peace and harmony for all Jews.

Rabbi Cardozo in his though-provoking article stated:

No denomination should have control over it, and it should have no barriers separating people. It must be designated as a place where people can touch Heaven and experience a feeling of true holiness.

Our sages teach us that the Second Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred between Jews. Rabbi Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel famously stated:

The Second Temple was only destroyed through “Sinat Chinam” (causeless hatred – between Jews) and will only be rebuild through “Ahavat Chinam” (selfless love between Jews).”

This Tisha b’Av, unfortunately I observed at the site of the ruins of the Temple that we are still far away from that glorious day.