Tuesday, 19 November 2013

JVO: Egalitarianism and Numbers

Jewish Values Online is a website that presents the Jewish view on a variety of issues. Some of these issues are specifically Jewish, and some relate to the world around us --  then presents answers from each of the denominations of Judaism. Nishmablog's Blogmaster, Rabbi Wolpoe and Nishma's Founding Director, Rabbi Hecht, both serve as Orthodox members on their Panel of Scholars.

This post continues our series on the Nishmablog that features responses on JVO by one of our two Nishma Scholars who are on this panel. This week's presentation is about one of the questions to which Rabbi Wolpoe responded.

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Question: While I support tolerance, acceptance and unity for the Jewish people, I can’t help noticing that when I have visited the Kotel many times during morning hours, there does not appear to be even a minute base of women that want to pray in an egalitarian style minyan. At the same time there are thousands davening at the Kotel every morning peacefully, representing many threads of Judaism. Why all the commotion to create an area for egalitarian minyanim (prayer groups) on a regular basis at the Kotel, when there doesn’t appear to be the numbers to justify using very limited prime real estate for this purpose? My question is more about the need to accommodate a very small specific group for a once a month event. Wouldn’t it be great to see thousands of Jews show up at the Kotel every morning demanding an egalitarian style minyan? That would show a different level of seriousness to the Women of the Wall (WOW) cause. But, as of now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Wishing for peace and unity for the Jewish people, I want to know what this is really about.

This question touches upon so many different topics, that I'm not sure where to begin.

Here are but a few aspects to consider.

1. The nature of the Kotel or Western Wall.

2. Egalitarianism

3. Holiness, Kedushah

4. The Ends Justifying the Means.


1. The Wall has many aspects.
A. A Holy Shrine
B. A piece of history, like a museum
C. A place of worship

2. Egalitarianism -
A. Women have rights, too.
B. Separate but Equal

3. Holiness
A. What is appropriate behavior at the Holy Temple
B. Similarly at a Synagogue

4. Assuming the Ends are Jusitified, what means are justified?
Illustration: Rosa Parks
A. Would Rosa Parks have been justified in shooting the Bus Driver?
B. Hijacking the Bus?
C. Preventing the Bus from Moving?

Questions abound:
1. Which forms of worship are appropriate at the Kotel and which are not?

2. Which forms of protest are legitimate at the Kotel and which are not?

3. What kind of protesting behavior
is acceptable during Services?

4. When is it OK to call attention to one's own cause while distracting others who are focused upon serving G-d?

4. We light Hanukkah Candles in the Synagogue to proclaim the Miracle of Hanukkah.  What other proclamations would fall under this rubric?

5. One of Micah's exhortations is "Hatzn'eia Lechet im Hashem..." To Walk Humbly with G-d.  Is calling attention to one's personal cause in a Place of Worship within the spirit of this Prophesy?  Or is it a violation of Humitilty and Modesty to voice outrage during worship?


Some Random Comments

When I was a young man, a very powerful personality decided to impose his will and ego on the congregation.  The Acting Rabbi got up and made a speech:

"When you walk into shul, you check your ego at the door." Meaning a synagogue is not the proper venue to air one's political grievances.  There may be some exceptions, but not egotistical ones.


In the Ancient Holy Temple, even shoes and money purses were off limits.  The reverence for the Holy Sites was quite demanding.  It would be a shame to turn this plaza into a political battleground.

Newton's 3rd law of motion often comes to mind:
For every Action
There is an Equal and Opposite Reaction

Or for every provocation
There is backlash.

This dance of the Yin Yang often perpetuates hostility, without much peaceful resolution in sight.

Certainly WOW has some right to worship as they see fit. How they manifest their desires is one side of the issue; the other side is how they get mistreated.  This seems to be a lose-lose confrontation without any winners.

If this dispute were conducted quietly without the glare of the media fanning the flames, possibly some amicable win-win resolution might result.  Neither side would need to dig in its heels, and a form of compromise or accomodation might be forthcoming.

As it stands now, the Kotel Conflict  seem to be mere pawns in the larger socio-political conflict which is perhaps best conducted outside the precincts of the "City of Peace".

Egalitarian prayer is an affront to many Orthodox Jews. That said, tolerance and accommodation are certainly possible.  The less confrontation, the better; thereby increasing the likelihood of any peaceful compromise.

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