Long before the Temple was built or Jerusalem was named as its location, its conditionality and impermanence were made explicit in this week’s Torah portion, “And I will make desolate your holy places” (Lev. 26:31). Nevertheless, the Mishna (Megilla 3:3) says, “Their holinesspersists in their desolation.”
That’s why the climax of the Six-Day War, which wecommemorate today, is Motte Gur’s declaration “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” But soon we handed administrative control back to the Waqf, an organization with a scary name that simply means “trust” or “endowment,” under the aegis of Jordan. They forbid Jews (or Christians) from praying on Mount Moriah, leaving us down in the foothills, back at the Western Wall (Kotel), which is a retaining wall of the mountain, not a remnant of the Temple proper.
Finding Moria is the easy part; it’s getting inside that’s the challenge.
Still, it’s the closest we can get, and that’s why every president, pope and pop star who visits Jerusalem comes to the Wall. All these men don their paper kippot and stick their paper kvitlachbetween the stones.
And the women? They have their own half of the Wall, and I mean half in the most metaphorical and non-mathematical way, as in “How the Other Half Prays.” The men drape their talitot, wrap their tefillin and read their Torah scrolls in their quorums (quora?) of ten. The women at the Wall don’t do any of those things.
But the Women of the Wall do, albeit only on the first day of each Hebrew month. Not all go in for tallit and tefillin, but they are there for a communal female experience. Some men of the Wall are less than happy about this, as freely expressed by shouting, cursing and throwing chairs. Why are these men preying instead of praying? Why are they inspecting what’s going on beyond the mehitza (partition) which is designed to prevent them from gazing at women? The world may never know.
Men of the Wall actually praying
Don’t worry, the police are close at hand–to arrest the Women of the Wall. Or detain them. Or question them. They’re usually released the same day, which is nice. So it has gone on for a quarter-century, despite various court rulings supporting WoW.
The latest ruling has ignited quite a furor. Denied on appeal from excluding WoW, the government is now trying to find a compromise. One suggestion is creating a third, mixed-gender section for prayer. Of course, considering the mixed-gender tourist section, this would actually be the fourth. Or considering the covered men’s section, where those with a Y chromosome can find ample shelter from rain or sun, this would be the fifth. Oh, there’s also the consideration that WoW are suing for the right to pray as women, not with men. So… section six?
Of course, you’d hardly know that from social media. Not an essay, article or post goes by without a string of comments criticizing WoW’s sanity, sanctity, sexuality or fashion sense. But those are just the commenters; what about the authors? They are, generally speaking, far more restrained, though they do often perplex me as well. Here are two claims I find particularly puzzling:
1) Women of the Wall want to tear down the mehitza and set hours for single-sex prayer.
Actually, no. This isn’t a public pool, it’s the Kotel. WoW has never said anything of the sort. What is this based on? I tried to corner a Facebook friend of mine on this. He told me to Google it. Nothing came up. Then he sent me a link to a Tikkun article, but WoW’s sole documented complaint about the mehitza was that it was doing a poor job of keeping them safe from chairs, garbage and spit being launched at them. Then he hemmed and hawed and said he must have seen it somewhere and somewhen on Ynet, the local news site. And that was the end of our conversation.
2) Women of the Wall supported the Temple Mount Faithful, then stabbed them in the back.
Actually, no again. WoW did classify their respective cases as “apples and oranges” this week. You see, the Temple Mount Faithful (TMF) want to restore Jewish prayer (and sovereignty and architecture) on the Mount and have sued for the right to pray at our holiest site. Well, not quite, because we’re all ritually impure nowadays, so they want to pray at our eighth holiest site, the Temple Mount, since the top seven are off-limits. (Most, but far from all, rabbis think the Temple Mount is off-limits too, for what it’s worth.) On Times of Israel a year ago (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/an-ironic-observation-on-freedom-of-religion-at-judaisms-holiest-site/), my colleague, Rabbi Elli Fischer, stated the case for equating the two, at least to some extent. (I’m not sure what “greater freedom of Jewish worship at the Kotel” means in this context.) It’s a potent and thought-provoking argument, eloquently stated and passionately presented. He even sent it on to WoW, reiterating that TMF and WoW would make “strange bedfellows.” Their response was “we couldn’t agree more! At the end of the day our fight is a fight for religious freedom.. FOR ALL!”
Now, what were they agreeing with? Is it that the nature of their fight make them “strange bedfellows” for the TMF? If they had said something about the Temple Mount or addressed geography at all or said “all Jews,” that would certainly have made things less ambiguous. They must have issued a press release, right? No. Stated it publicly in an interview? No. Posted something on their site? Well, that they did, namely the first few lines of this blog, adding to its title, “WOW supporter Elli Fischer.” Is that legally binding? If so, I may have to check my Facebook likes…
I happen to know some of the Jews who advocate for the right to pray on the Temple Mount, and they impress me with their sincerity; by the same token, I happen to know some of the Women of the Wall, and their honest religious desire to take their place at the Kotel is striking. I would not necessarily equate the issues, but I would hope that we can talk about eachcivilly.
Today is Jerusalem Day, and the new moon of Sivan is on Friday. I hope the only fireworks will be the ones the municipality planned. As I recall, ultimately, all these people are ardently fighting to pray for peace.
About the Author
Yoseif Bloch is a rabbi who has taught at Yeshivat HaKotel, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah and served as a congregational rabbi in Canada. He currently works as an editor, translator and publisher. As a blogger and podcaster, he is known as Rabbi Joe in Jerusalem.