It’s Time to Boycott the Kotel

Can you imagine such a thing as a woman strip searched as she goes to pray for no other reason than that she goes to pray as a woman? Can you imagine? I don’t have to, because it happened just the other day.

The first time I Prayed at the Kotel I know what I felt: a great rushing presence moving up the wall, a presence that accepted all those prayers, a receptive presence. A feminine presence.

What I felt at the Kotel is a woman. To be more precise, I felt the presence at the Kotel of the shechina– the feminine aspect of God.

This is not a shocking idea. Ancient Jewish texts speak of a woman in black, a woman in mourning and exile seen by mystics at the Kotel. This woman is- the female aspect of God- the aspect of God that moves in this world, sharing the suffering of her children.

How the Shechina must be suffering now.

Now that women, classically thought to be her image on earth, her specific image beyond the image of God in the human, are strip searched and vilified.

Now that women, the image of the Shechina in the woman who embodies and births the human in the world, is insulted and vilified.

Now that the image of malchut, the Kingdom of God, is disempowered and reduced to the subhuman or even worse in shouts calling her a Nazi or a Kapo.

Now that the woman is rejected and humiliated as woman in that very place where her celestial archetype wanders in tears and perhaps sometimes in joy.

The Kotel is ruled by men in black coats. Not the black of mourning, but the black that shuts out the rainbow of colors, a black which protects its wearers, forming an optic which simply says No.

The men who usurp Gods glory and power for their own designs- they can no longer see her there, they are blind, they are consumed with ownership and power and the sick stench of fear and anger- and so they chase out the Shechina at the very place where she is meant to reign, to be reunited with her King.

Make no mistake- the forces of hatred have overwhelmed the Kotel, overwhelmed the last vestige of the Temple where Gods Queen once dwelt. The forces of sinat chinam– irrational hatred, also known as idolatry- have made that shining memorial into a tomb, and then have desecrated it.

Heaven forbid a woman should pray there as a man! Heaven forbid Jews should gather in humility before God, knowing their interpretations of Gods will are always subject to question and God may work in ways beyond our understanding.

Heaven forbid we should think that God might move in ways that show in the face of that other who is outside our understanding of God’s community. Surely it is for us to know and declare the way our thoroughly tamed and completely understood God acts.

Heaven forbid we should re-examine what human minds have thought in the mirror of Gods infinite love and justice.

Heaven forbid, for we worship the work of our own hands, now and always, amen.

This is not just about women, of course. It is also about the arrogant, uneducated, and wholly unjustified belief among the Orthodox that only their interpretation of Judaism is reasonable and authentic.

It is also about the fear among the Orthodox that their well-worn paths, their familiar certainties, their power and control, will be threatened. It is about their strange belief that they must use all means at their power- politics, intimidation, and even violence, to defend God’s home, because God is, apparently, shockingly unable to take care of it himself.

Yet at the end of the day this is particularly about those who have power and those they seek to prevent from having it, and in this case those under assault are women.

What were the two women who were strip-searched suspected of hiding in their skirts? Guns? Bombs? Knives?

No. Torah scrolls!

This incident lets us answer a new question. We Jews have always believed that the site of the Temple was the holiest place in the world. Where, though, is the unholiest, if that is not too dangerous a question?

The unholiest place in the world would have to be a place of shocking idolatry and betrayal of the sacredness and dignity of all the human beings. Paradoxically, the intensity of the anti-holy would, of course, be felt most strongly if manifest in a very holy place. We are left, then, with no other choice but to answer the question like this: the unholiest place in the world is now the Kotel itself.

All Jews of good faith should, therefore, abandon the place like they would, under Jewish law, avoid an impurity spreading corpse. Until such time as it is cleansed of the hatred, the anti-holiness, and the anti-Judaism that has currently taken up home there, it is no holy place.

It’s time to boycott the Kotel.


About the Author
Matthew Gindin is a journalist and Jewish educator who writes regularly for the Forward and the Jewish Independent and has been published in the Canadian Jewish News, Religion Dispatches, and elsewhere. Formerly a Buddhist monk, Matthew focuses on contemplative and philosophical traditions across religious boundaries as well as social justice issues through a Jewish lens.