First, take a look at this article from the New York Daily News:
Now, of course, one would say that it is obvious that I, as an Orthodox rabbi, would have difficulties with this article -- yet, doesn't it just express the basic sentiment of freedom of (and from) religion, just as the author herself concludes this article? But maybe it is time to read between the lines -- and recognize that there is much more going on in this article than just a simple battle across religious lines. The article reflects an obscurantism that is rampant in the Jewish world -- an obscurantism that is even promoted in the Jewish world -- in order to maintain the status quo: a Jewish world that makes no sense but is maintained because it allows people to promote whatever they want as Jewishness.
What exactly was this woman's argument? Was it that the Kotel is also a secular/historical site and that, as such, it should not be solely defined as a religious site, thus being subject to religious restrictions? Or was it that, in recognition that Judaism has many different branches, each one seeing the Kotel as their holiest site, all the branches of Judaism should have equal determination as to the religious practice at the Kotel (l'havdel, to be approached in the same manner as the Ma'arat Hamachpeila which had to accommodate different religious practices)? This woman included both questions and neither question in her article. The reason is that either question would actually challenge her perception of Jewishness. If she argues from the viewpoint of different religious perspectives, she would have to deal with the reality of theological distinctions within the generic perception of Judaism; her and the charedim at the Wall are thus not just in disagreement on some practice or ritual but in regard to the basic tenets of the faith. She doesn't want to go there. When she argues from the secular perspective, though, eventually her own religious desires become challenged; she, in the end, effectively wants to pray there. Thus put together an article that ultimately makes no sense -- I want the Wall to be seen as secular so I can use it religiously as I see fit. Welcome to the Kotel -- the holiest, adamantly secular site in the Jewish world.
Yet what about the two possible arguments that I have presented. If the Kotel is the holy site of different religions (Orthodox Judaism, Reform Judaism etc.), in line with Western thought, shouldn't it be divided amongst the religions? And if it also has secular/historical significance, shouldn't it have a secular place as well? There is one statement within this article that actually answers both these questions -- albeit that the author did not really mean it this way. She wrote:
"However, it is the ultra-Orthodox and Haredi Jews who have turned this ancient attraction into their home." Yes, they have -- because it is their home. The Kotel is not an ancient attraction to them. It is part of their daily life. For many, it is the place they attend, at least twice a day, to daven. It is their life. And that is not something new; this is the way it was until Jordan did not allow access for 19 years.
What, as she terms them, the charedim are doing is simply what has happened at the Kotel for close to 2000 years. But let's stop all that -- because some tourist wants a better photo opportunity. (Okay, that may be a low blow). The fact is that the Kotel is more than a historical relic; it is history itself. It should be respected on this level as well.
Rabbi Ben Hecht