This first day of February, my dog Maccabee decided to walk east instead of west. I chuckled when he stopped to do what dogs do right in front of a school entrance guarded by a policeman. As I leaned over to pick up what he did with a little blue bag, with my backside to the officer, I mused that, in another context, this act could be seen as civil disobedience. With that thought, I was transported back to our Sacred Space, the Kotel, and to the numerous times my praying with the Women of the Wall was exactly that, civil disobedience.
When Anat Hoffman was arrested for carrying the Torah away from the Kotel on Rosh Hodesh Av 5770, I turned to my friend Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, a reform rabbi who leads a congregation in southern Jerusalem, and said, “Wow. That was so cool. That was civil disobedience.” I then made a pledge — I was too young to be a part of the social change of the Secular 60s but I am going to sing my way through the social change of the Sacred 70s. So, it is with a great deal of satisfaction that I join in the cautious celebration of the Israeli Cabinet’s “historic announcement,” knowing my voice was one of those calling for change and shedding light on the story of the Women of the Wall.
Unfortunately, ultra-Orthodox leadership in Israel is once again demonstrating that the lenses through which their community views other types of Judaism is not just intolerant, but utterly disrespectful. Haredi Orthodox lawmaker Moshe Gafni, chair of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, has declared he will not recognize the decision: “Reform Jews are a group of clowns who stab the holy Torah…There will never, ever be recognition for this group of clowns, not at the Wall and not anywhere else.” With a nod to composer Stephen Sondheim, this insult brought to mind his lyric, “send in the clowns” and I envisioned Rabbi Rick Jacobs sending in a mixed gender crowd of passionate Jewish Zionists to dance in celebration.
Beyond insulting, denigrating other forms of Jewish practice is an affront to the dynamic nature of our Jewish tradition. While being “yotzei” — fulfilling one’s religious obligation is of paramount importance to followers of traditional Orthodox Judaism, understanding how other Jews see their sense of “sacred obligation” is not important at all. It is time for MK Gafni and his community to begin listening to the other voices of Judaism. “Sh’ma Yisrael — l’chol Am Yisrael. Sh’ma l’kolot Yisrael, l’chol am Yisrael.”
Naomi Less and I, first in response to the outrageous treatment of girls in Beit Shemesh, then in response to Anat Hoffman being arrested for saying the Sh’ma at the Kotel and finally as a general call to action, have released this music video. Of course, MK Gafni and his community may find Naomi’s solo voice to be a problem under the rules of Kol Isha and choose not to listen as is their right in a democratic society. However, another fundamental tenet is that in a democracy, more than one voice should decide the rules that apply in public, and that includes the Public Jewish Law. The video can easily be viewed at the Sacred Rights, Sacred Song website.
Back in the last century, Other than Orthodox “OO” Jews began to assert their right to religious expression in Public Jewish Space, i.e., Israel. Readers may remember the Simchat Torah when Levi’s congregation Kol HaNeshama faced ugly protests by over-empowered haredim in the streets of southern Jerusalem. Or readers may recall that early on a Shavuot morning at the Kotel, an egalitarian crowd was pelted with dirty diapers and bags of poop, thrown by ultra-Orthodox protesters.
As I walked toward Amsterdam Ave. and the ubiquitous mesh metal trash can, holding the now filled little blue bag, I thought about those disgusting moments in modern Jewish history. MK Gafni and those who think like him hold similar attitudes and values to those who literally threw sh-t at other Jews. Prime Minister Netanyahu must immediately demand that such public expressions of intolerance, Jew against Jew, stop in the name of a healthy Jewish democratic State of Israel. Otherwise, the grand project of expanding our Sacred Space will be nothing more than a piece of paper that will end up in the same place as the little blue bag. And if that happens, it will be yet another sad moment for the Jewish People and then, we may in fact, need to send in the clowns.