Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Jerusalem Day 2016: Is it a Wall for All?

As we celebrate the 49th Jerusalem Day today 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 mechitzah or an ultra-Orthodox controlled Wall,  rather they found a “Wall for all.”

Paratroopers Swearing in at the Wall. Photo © “Beneath the Helmet”

Now nearly half a century later the story that 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. (Similarly, the lack of any role for woman in a traditional Orthodox synagogue setting 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 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.  He must have the courage to see it through to its ultimate implementation.

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order:
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