It has been a whirlwind week in Israel. This week we met with Israel’s Prime Minister for the first time in 6 years, and with Israel’s Interior Minister – the first time in 12 years! Since this ‘change government’ blew the winds of change into the Knesset, we’ve had the opportunity to work together, meet with, and partner with many leaders in Israel’s Government. (To read more on that click here.)
While the focus of the world is currently on Europe – both on the Russia/Ukraine front and in Vienna where the talks on Iran’s nuclear program continue – our Movement leadership concentrated on the Kotel and the possibility of implementation of the Kotel deal from 2016.
That might be seen as an odd choice, considering some of the dire needs of the world, and in Israel and the region. Even beyond Ukraine, Iran, the Occupation, etc, we see this struggle to be at the epicenter of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The Kotel is a symbol of breaking down the barriers to entry and shifting the Status Quo. The deal that was originally struck would have Reform and Conservative Jews in positions of oversight at a Jewish holy site for the first time ever.
Beyond the challenges of implementation, the incitement against the Reform Movement has reached new levels, and the narrative of many politicians must change. Here are a few thoughts on the topic.
- Too many politicians simply see the Kotel as belonging to the ultra-Orthodox and not to anyone else and have become accustomed to this National and historical site as an Orthodox synagogue. Thus, anyone looking to make change is deemed a “provocateur.”
Let’s be clear – there is no reason it should be this way and we who oppose the current status must work to change it.
- The issue of the Egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel is important in and unto itself, however it is really about something much bigger. It is about the public square in the Jewish State. It touches on the fundamental questions of what Judaism looks like in the Jewish State, the place of women in public, and the acceptance of non-Orthodox Judaism by the State.
Our tradition offers two framings through which we can look at the world and help explain our situation at the Kotel (these framings work for most issues including the current war in Ukraine.)
The first is a basic tenet of liberalism, and comes from the Talmud amidst a lengthy discussion of how the rabbis understood the laws of damages and property law:
“שֶׁזֶּה נִהְנָה, וְזֶה לֹא חָסֵר”
) תלמוד הבבלי בבא קמא כ-כא)
A simple statement explaining a situation in which “one-party derives benefit, and the other party does not suffer a loss.” (Talmud Bava Kamma 20b)
When we look at the Kotel we are not looking for the entire plaza, including Men’s and Women’s sections to reflect our customs or observances. We don’t want to change the Men’s and Women’s sections, only to add one more section that would be egalitarian.
This approach envisions a world of equity and equanimity. A world in which one person’s ability to pray according to their custom does not come at the expense of another. It offers the possibility for compromise and that for us to achieve our goals we would not have to diminish the standing of the other.
The second approach reflects the actions of many in the ultra-Orthodox community.
“‘שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי,
רָשָׁע:” (אבות ה:י)
“What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is [also] mine: This is the definition of an evil person” (Rambam adds that this is definition of the people of Sodom). (Pirkei Avot 5:1).
This is, according to Pirke Avot, the embodiment of evil. Last Tisha B’Av, a number of people attacked and disrupted prayers at the egalitarian section, insisting that the space designated for egalitarian prayer should also be Orthodox. The thugs who disrupted, don’t seem to be satisfied with this approach.
So, as we approach the coming month where we are taught to be happy, we have an opportunity to take back the narrative and put our pluralism on display.
Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Sameach!