Last Rosh Chodesh – on the first of Av – on Monday 8th July I joined you at the Kotel for your monthly prayer gathering. Although from an Orthodox background, I have always fully supported your right to freely pray there.
When David Ben-Gurion read out the State of Israel’s Declaration of Independence on 14th May, he only mentioned the simple Jew. There was no hyphenation separating us into Charedi, Modern Orthodox, Masorti or Reform. To me, this is one of the clearest signs that Medinat Yisrael was intended to be for all Jews. In a state committed to religious pluralism, it saddens me to see the hegemony of one group in controlling a site as significant to so many as the Kotel is.
In a state committed to religious pluralism, it saddens me to see the hegemony of one group in controlling a site as significant to so many as the Kotel is.
However, based on what I saw last Rosh Chodesh I have felt obliged to question the degree to which I support your organisation. Your lay membership greatly impressed me. Their kavannah (concentration and dedication to prayer) during Shacharit was frankly inspirational, in fact being far deeper than much of the tefilah I have seen in Orthodox synagogues. For the most part they took the moral high ground, ignoring the jibes and goading of a militant fringe of young Charedi men. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about your leadership.
In the middle of the prayer service, the following was posted on your official Twitter account: “We were marched into a ghetto of sorts, with no mehitzah and far from the Kotel. The protesters are staring at us yelling taking pictures.” What “ghetto” were you referring to? For your own safety, the police had erected barriers and ringed them – with you inside – to prevent the mob of a hundred or so young male Charedi thugs from attacking you.
“We were marched into a ghetto of sorts, with no mehitzah and far from the Kotel. The protesters are staring at us yelling taking pictures.”
You also tweeted the following: “The police are able to lead us into the Kotel past a mere hundred Charedi protesters but refuse”. This was not the case. That morning, I had the benefit of walking down to the Kotel from the Jewish Quarter past Yeshivat Porat Yosef, and was able to see all the way across the Plaza area where you were as well as the Wall itself. As I am sure you now know, at the behest of United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, thousands of religious girls and women had made their way to the ladies’ section of the Kotel to pray at Netz (sunrise). Because their area of prayer was so small (this is a whole other issue in itself), they totally filled it to the point that hundreds of them had spilled onto the Plaza and had to pray there instead.
Carelessly making Holocaust analogies is always at best shameful, but how much more so when directed against the police force of the Jewish State who were only trying to ensure your security? Are you aware of how seriously your safety was taken by the authorities that morning? The numerous undercover and uniformed officers were drawn from Yasam: the toughest anti-riot unit under the auspices of the Israeli Police. While the apology issued by your Director of Public Relations about the ghetto tweet was certainly welcome, there should have been no need to make it in the first instance.
I also found myself questioning your commitment to Jewish practice. I do not doubt the sincerity of your lay membership in wishing to pray unabated at the Kotel. But how much of what Mrs. Anat Hoffman and company do is based on genuine spiritual conviction? To an outside observer, her donning of a tallit during a Knesset hearing on 1st May in the presence of Charedi MKs seems like little more than attention seeking at best while at worse simply offensive, slapping ultra-Orthodox sensibilities in the face. Is your donning of religious articles driven by a desire to connect more with God and Judaism, or largely for political reasons and an attempt to create a media circus?
Is your donning of religious articles driven by a desire to connect more with God and Judaism, or largely for political reasons and an attempt to create a media circus?
Tomorrow morning should be a watershed moment for your organisation. I sincerely hope that you take the opportunity to exercise your recently attained religious freedoms (the ability to pray at the Kotel without fear of arrest), but with the kind of dignity that befits such a holy place. While you will undoubtedly face opposition there, tomorrow you can turn over a new leaf by simply ignoring it. While having eggs, bottles and rocks thrown at you in prayer is nothing short of foul, why give the individuals that do so the attention they obviously crave by tweeting about them?
I sincerely hope that you take the opportunity to exercise your recently attained religious freedoms…with the kind of dignity that befits such a holy place.
You could also do much to dispel suspicions of lacking genuine religious conviction. Instead of having a monthly presence at the Kotel, why not make it at first weekly, and then if that’s a success daily? Your fight for free worship should not just be a monthly one surrounded by cameras, but constant and rooted in sincerity. A very common Orthodox – and frankly not unreasonable – response to your activities is to question how often do your members lay tefilin when not engaged in political activism. Should the answer be daily, fantastic. We can then have no doubts as to your sincerity. But if this is not the case, then what? It would appear that your monthly appearances are little more than attention-seeking media stunts. What does that do for the women who currently are sincere in their worship with tefilin and talleitim, and wish to advance it with the addition of a Torah scroll but are prevented from doing so by the Kotel’s authorities?
On another note, I urge you to avoid engaging in “Charedi-bashing”. Yes, the majority of opposition to your efforts come from within the Charedi community but only a fringe minority acted violently against you last Rosh Chodesh. For the most part the throwers of rocks and bottles were young men below the age of twenty; as were those who hurled insults such as “Nazi”, “zonah” and “Amalekites” in your direction; or tried to drown out your prayer with the blowing of whistles. The majority of counter-protesters were either praying, or simply there to ensure that their presence was being felt. In fact, the Charedi community’s leadership had forbade unmarried men from attending that morning as they were felt to lack the necessary maturity; once the violence broke out, I saw a number of elderly men – whom I assume were Chasidic Rebbes because of their bekeshes and streimels – quietly leaving, accompanied by their followers.
I urge you to avoid engaging in “Charedi-bashing”…only a fringe minority acted violently against you last Rosh Chodesh
To conclude, I wish you the best of success tomorrow morning and in the future, but also hope that you take on board my above considerations. While I speak only for myself, the time may come when this is not the case because of the insensitivity with which you pursue your aims, and the questions that surround your sincerity of public religious practice on a monthly basis.
While your predicament is saddening and even tragic, it may also be worth bearing in mind that the Kotel is not in fact Judaism’s holiest site. That epithet goes to the adjacent Temple Mount, to which Jews currently have extremely limited access to. In fact neither men nor women can pray there at all because of the restrictions put in place by the administrating Waqf.
Yours sincerely and wishing you a wholehearted Chodesh Tov,
Daniel J. Levy