Witnessing the sickening scene of Jews attacking other Jews, and destroying their prayer books, who disagreed with their interpretation of our common religion at Judaism’s holiest site last week was both incredibly sad and angering. Ultra-Orthodox extremists attacked women belonging to the “Women of the Wall” movement during the monthly Rosh Hodesh (New Moon) morning service. In a few weeks, Jews throughout the world are going to commemorate Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year here in Israel and throughout the Jewish world. It is a time to reflect and soul search. The 24-hour fast is supposed to be a catalyst to action. The central aspect of the fast is to remember what led to so much our misfortune as Jews and what is the solution. In the immortal words of Rabbi A. I. Kook,
Just as the Temple was destroyed through baseless hatred (Sinat Chinam), it will only be rebuilt through baseless love (Ahavat Chinam).
A few years ago I was at a presentation by Professor Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University, a world-renowned expert on anti-Semitism. When someone in the audience asked her what was the greatest threat to the Jewish people. She answered, “the Jews themselves.”
I have just completed a book on the Second Temple Period and in it I discussed how when the Roman army ground to a halt for two years outside the walls of Jerusalem in the year 68 CE, the Jews inside the city walls, instead of uniting against a common foe, descended into a fratricidal frenzy and severely weakened themselves. United we stand and divided we fall. It is as we have not learned anything from our own history!
The role of women in traditional Judaism is clearly at variance with the rise of the professional woman in the contemporary period. Women are now astronauts, doctors, lawyers, Talmud scholars and heads of State. In the twenty-first century, there is a growing need of many religious women and men to readdress the role of women in Judaism. The gap between our social and ethical values and our synagogue lives is something that we should see as compromising our religious integrity. The proposed opening of the long-promised Western Wall egalitarian plaza by the incoming “Unity Government” will be a huge step in redressing this situation.
Only when we learn what we have in common, and not what divides us, and share an unconditional love towards our fellow Jews will we be worthy of complete redemption. What we need in our beloved country is an inclusivist positive step to make the land of the Jewish people a place of tolerance, peace and harmony for all Jews.