Robert L. Kern
Robert L. Kern

Sinat Hinam: The awful hatred displayed at the Kotel

The Talmud teaches us that both the First and Second Temples were destroyed because of baseless or wanton hatred, Sinat Hinam (שנאת חנם). Yoma 9b:8 explains that the First Temple was destroyed due to “idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed” and that the Second Temple suffered the same fate because of Sinat Hinam. As it says, “the sin of wanton/baseless hatred is equivalent to the three transgressions.” “שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות”

This past week, in the days leading up to Tisha B’Av, wanton hatred of non-Orthodox Jews was on full display at Jerusalem’s Kotel, or Western Wall.

On Monday evening, July 12, right-wing religious Zionist Jews occupied the southern section of the Kotel in the area reserved for egalitarian prayer (#ezratyisrael) by Masorti/Conservative and Progressive/Reform Jewish minyans. Seeking to prevent the new government coalition (headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid) from instituting a revived “Kotel Deal” to provide non-Orthodox movements with a new and improved prayer plaza, these religious Zionist activists brought a mechitza to separate the genders and returned on every one of the days leading to Tisha B’Av.

On Thursday night, July 15, these hardline agitators, known as the “Joint Committee for Preserving the Holiness of the Western Wall,” purposely disrupted a Conservative bar mitzvah at the southern Kotel Ezrat Yisrael site, also known as Robinson’s Arch. Led by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim, located in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, the group appropriated the site for their own prayer service and study session. On Tisha B’Av, Saturday night, July 17, they again occupied the site to hold evening minyan and to read Eicha, Lamentations. They all but prevented the Masorti group from being able to hold their own prayers and purposely sang to attempt to drown out the group’s reading of Eicha.

Rather than “baseless hatred,” I translate “Sinat Hinam” as “wanton hatred.” The word “wanton” means cruel, deliberate and unprovoked, which is far more appropriate to the actions of the “Joint Committee for Preserving the Holiness of the Western Wall.”  I’m also sure that the agitators would not define their hatred as “baseless.” They are vehemently opposed to any non-Orthodox expression or interpretation of Judaism and worry that the Ezrat Yisrael area of the Wall, is a threat to Orthodox jurisdiction of every inch of the Kotel and plaza.

They have good reason to be worried. The new government coalition was assembled without the inclusion of any of Israel’s religious political parties, which sharply curtails their power and potentially threatens their access to state funds for schools and institutions. This new government supports the “Kotel Deal” which calls for the creation of large egalitarian space, accessible from the main Kotel Plaza and governed by a board that will include Women of the Wall (also victims to religious agitators at the Rosh Hodesh observances they hold at the Kotel) and progressive representatives. The Jewish Agency, Conservative/Masorti Movement and the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, support the Ezrat Yisrael egalitarian space at the southern Kotel.

The same week preceding Tisha B’Av saw a delegation of leaders from United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism arrived in Israel to meet with Israel President Yitzhak “Bougie” Herzog, members of the new coalition government and other leaders to urge that they implement the “Kotel Deal,” defend and support the rights of Jews who are converted or married by non-Orthodox rabbis and to insure that the government provides funding for non-Orthodox communities and spiritual leaders just as it provides to the Orthodox.

Without Haredi or religious Zionist parties in the coalition to block it, as they did four years ago, the “Kotel Plan” may finally be implemented. The website states: “We believe that Jerusalem belongs to the entire Jewish people and therefore offer the service to every Jew, from every stream, as long as they respect the right of other Jews to act according to their faith. The Masorti Movement happily and freely provides service to worshipers wishing to pray at the Western Wall in a pluralistic and egalitarian spirit.”

במהרה בימינו — May it occur speedily in our days!

About the Author
Robert L. Kern has served as Director of Marketing & Communications for several "American Friends," Zionist and Jewish organizations. He is a former President of the American Jewish Public Relations Society and a member of the Executive Committee of the American Jewish Press Association. The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.
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