Sheldon Adelson is Israel’s reigning newspaper baron. He owns one, Israel HaYom, which is the largest daily in the country and is known as Bibi’s mouthpiece. It’s nickname is “Bibi-Times.” He also bought two other failing papers, Maariv and Makor Rishon. The latter was formerly owned by a settler tycoon, and retains its ultra-Orthodox/settler ideological orientation.
This week, after years of negotiation which had led to a tentative compromise offering non-Orthodox women access to an egalitarian prayer site at the Kotel, Bibi Netanyahu reneged on the agreement. He did so under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition allies, who already have a rabbinic monopoly on national civic matters like birth, death, marriage and divorce. In addition to their control over these critical social processes, the ultra-Orthodox have maintained restrictive regulations at the Kotel which made women second-class citizens. Women were confined to a small area, while men had a broad open area to access the sacred wall. Women could not lead a formal prayer service, nor lead a Torah reading–all critical aspects of Jewish worship.
When the Women of the Wall began as an NGO dedicated to full access for women to the Wall, the Orthodox establishment reacted with violence and anger. They spat at the women, they ripped prayer books from their hands. They screamed. They cursed them. It was ugly. Police were called in. Women were arrested and booked as criminal for carrying Torah scrolls.
Then, Natan Sharansky’s Jewish Agency stepped in attempting to broker a compromise. For several years, the women negotiated in good faith with government politicians and the Kotel Taliban, er rabbis. A compromise seemed to be in reach. Then it all came tumbling down this week as the “beards” buckled down on Bibi and forced him to back out. The problem for American Jews is that they have only a tiny constituency in an Israeli political system defined by ethnic or religious affiliations. As there is no clear secular, non-Orthodox political movement catering to their interests, they’re left out in the cold.
They can bitch and moan. They can withdraw a dinner invitation to Bibi. They can threaten to withdraw their increasingly irrelevant philanthropic largesse. But it means little to Bibi. It’s the equivalent of a gnat buzzing around his face; or a mosquito drinking a liquid cocktail on the Israeli body politic.
But that hasn’t stopped the Jewish Taliban from counter-attacking in defense of their Kotel prerogatives. Makor Rishon published a scandalous, even anti-Semitic attack on the Kotel egalitarians couched as a thinly-concealed fable about a Diaspora community called “Jewishville.” If that strikes those of you of a certain age as an echo of Jesse Jackson’s “Hymietown” slur, it should. A cartoon accompanying the article showed a mock-up of U.S. currency, featuring a graphic image of a kippah-wearing American Jew wearing a blindfold. Under his image was the caption: “In $$$ We Trust.” The implication was that American Jews would use the leverage of their charitable clout to punish Israel. To get a sense of the tone of this sophomoric slur, here are the opening lines:
Chris Smith, whose real name was once Moishe Rosenfeld, was shocked. The head of the umbrella organization for Reform Jews in Jewishville, a mid-sized, but bustling town in the American Midwest, was rocked by this week’s events concerning the Kotel deal…
Considering Israeli right-wing politicians feign enormous sensitivity to anti-Semitism, and see it glowering under the mattress of every BDS or Palestinian NGO, it’s beyond shocking that this dreck would pass muster for publication in any Jewish media outlet. For an Orthodox Israeli Jew to use tropes lifted directly from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to portray the motives of non-Orthodox Jews is beyond the Pale. It’s certainly disgusting. It should be impermissible. It should be denounced by every politician of every Party. But in latter-day Israel, it’s par for the course: if you are liberal or leftist you are treated like dirt, like sewage. This is what Israel has become, and it is why the next generation of Diaspora youth will either renounce Israel or treat it with a very critical eye, outcomes Israeli Jews will rue when they need support (and they will) and it isn’t there.
Oh, and this charming fairy tale was written by Ariel Schnabel. Remember that name: he’s not just an idiot. He’s an anti-Semitic idiot. And Makor Rishon lists Him as a “senior journalist. His partner in crime, the cartoonist, is Gonen Ma’atuk. Julius Streicher would be proud of their handiwork. Adelson, if he had an ounce of Jewish (or any sort of) decency, should not.
a. I find it curious that while criticizing a parody of American Jewry for its use of insensitive language and imagery, you see no irony in describing orthodox people in Israel as “Taliban” and “beards”. Obviously, your sensitivity is very selective.
b. You fail to tell your readers that since 2013 there is a 450-meter long egalitarian prayer area along the western wall. This solution has been fully endorsed by the conservative movement.
c. Woman in the kotel are not second-class. They pray in a separate area, as is the costume in any orthodox synagogue (and in most mosques, BTW). Hundreds of thousands of traditional and hareidi women who pray at the wall regularly are very satisfied by the arrangement that fits their religious sensibilities.
d. Women of the wall is a tiny radical movement numbering less than 200 activists with no grassroots support in Israel. They wish to use the kotel as a wedge issue to promote a radical change in normative traditional Judaism. There is no reason the government should give in to their demands. By insisting on provocative non-traditional prayer services that deeply offend the great majority of men and women worshipers at the wall the WOW are no different than radical settlers who regularly storm the Al-Haram Al-Sharif.
Both groups should be band.
Is the government the guardian of ‘normative tradition’?
Do WOW harass Jewish men (spitting at them etc.) or in any way prevent them from praying?
What you describe is in effect, that women are second class, not only at the wall but also in every orthodox synagogue. It is just that you find this ‘normative’ (and that you probably derive some sort of satisfaction from it).
Yes. It is the governments business to protect the religious norms in areas of public worship. That’s why the government is supposed to prevent scantily clad woman from entering the holy sepulcher, settlers from storming haram el sheriff, and WOW from conducting deliberately provocative mixed prayers sessions at the kotel.
Nobody is forcing you to be a traditional Jew, Elisabeth.
There is a 450-meter long area next to Robinson’s arch were you can conduct any kind of ceremony you like. However, deliberately staging a provocation in an area where you know it will be viewed as insulting and sacrilegious to the great majority of worshipers is exactly the kind of thing that settler zealots do by dancing in Jerusalem day thru the occupied Muslim quarter.
I doubt that I would want to pray in a place that was bulldozered for my benefit, but I took issue to your claim that women are not second class at the Kotel, or in traditional synagogues. That is nonsense. You just regard it as fitting, that is al.
Now, who decides what is a provocation? (It seems the Orthodox at the wall are very easily provoked!) What about the ‘Ice-cream sit-in’s’ during segregation? Do you denounce those as deliberately provocative as well, because they insisted on mixed service for blacks and whites when this was considered insulting and sacrilegious to the great majority of Southern whites? Is provocation always unjustified?
PS As far as I know, both men and women are advised to wear at least knee length shorts and no sleeveless t-shirts in Jerusalem churches, but maybe you object more to ‘scantily clad women’?
And are you sure the police enforce the rules (‘government business’ according to you) and not simply the caretakers of the church?
Richard Silverstein says
@ eli: No it is not the “government’s business” to be involved in religious matters unless your state is a theocracy. If you accept that designation that’s fine by me. Then you’re no longer a democracy and may be categorized alongside Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Vatican, etc. as religious states.
BTW, the government doesn’t prevent settlers from entering the Haram aal Sharif. In fact, it encourages it much of the time & assaults the Muslim holy sites when MUslim worshippers resist this provocative intrusion. And now Bibi is going to permit MKs to join the settlers in provoking holy war.
WoW worship is not “deliberately provocative.” It is demanding the same rights Orthodox men have. But I note that Southern whites also said of Blacks that their demands for full equality were deliberately provocative. They responded by lynching Blacks. I suppose after spitting & tearing up sidurim as the Orthodox have done in desecration of fellow Jews and sacred texts containing God’s name, that lynching may be next.
Robinson’s Arch has never been accepted by the Supreme Court or WoW or the non-Orthodox movements as commensurate with the Kotel Plaza. That’s where men pray. That’s where women should pray in the same fashion that men pray. ANything less is unacceptable.
It is an abject lie to compare WoW to settler provocation. WoW do not want to eliminate Orthodox Jews from the Plaza as settlers want to eliminate Palestinians from Jerusalem. WoW prayer is for the sake of the women themselves. It has no purpose in provoking anyone. Women only want equal treatment. Your comparison is histrionic & hysterical.
Be very careful about such analogies. I find this one odious & unacceptable. Consider this a warning.
Richard Silverstein says
@eli: Calling Orthodox Jewish fundamentalists “Taliban” is what is known as “satire.” You clearly don’t understand what satire is. It is a comment on their fanaticism, intolerance & propensity for violence against other Jews. IF they don’t like the comparison all they have to do is become less of those odious qualities. Then the satire won’t be relevant. As for “beards,” all ultra Orthodox rabbis wear beards. Secular Jews on the whole don’t (though some do). Beards are considered signs of piety in these circles hence again an accurate piece of satire.
On the other hand, the anti-Semitic meme that all Jews are rich is not true. Most Jews are not rich. Many Jews, indeed, are poor. Therefore, this is a racist, odious slur against not just the targeted Reform Jews, but all Jews (except of course the ultra Orthodox, who spouted the slur in the first place).
I don’t know anything about an egalitarian prayer area & have never heard of such a thing. Nor do I believe that in this “egalitarian prayer area” women can read Torah or be shlichay tzibur or be counted for a minyan, which are the true standards of an egalitarian prayer service. You also claim the area is “along the western wall.” I find it impossible to believe this area is in the same place as the main plaza where Orthodox men pray. If it isn’t, then it’s a 2nd class space. I strongly doubt the Conservative movement is happy with Bibi’s rejection of the compromise. I am sure they feel precisely the same way about it.
Women at the Kotel are indeed 2nd class. “Women” are not only ultra Orthodox women content to pray behind a mechitza. “Women” are also those accustomed to prayer the way it is conducted in 80% of synagogues around the world, in an egalitarian fashion. There are not “hundreds of thousands of Haredi women” praying at the Kotel. But there are millions of Jewish women who reject the custom which Haredi women find acceptable.
Women of the Wall represent Jewish women the world over. They indeed have the support of tens of thousands of non-Orthodox traditional Jews (Conservative & Reform) which comprise 10% of traditional Jews in Israel. That is not tiny, nor is it radical. INdeed, it is you & Haredi Jews who are the radicals because you are in the vast minority outside your enclaves in Meah Shearim & the Jewish Quarter.
Ultra Orthodox Judaism is NOT normative. It is aberrant in terms of all the Jews in the world. You have a little ghetto you’re happy living in. And you hate anyone who disturbs your insular life. Well, I’ve got news. You don’t own Judaism. Nor its holy sites. Jews do. Well ultimately God does. And he never gave you a monopoly on these.
Women praying in an egalitarian style is NOT provocative. It is normative. The “great majority of men and women at the wall” are a tiny minority of the world’s Jews. And some of those worshippers are among those who storm Haram al Sharif & join forces with their fellow ultra Orthodox settlers, while WoW wouldn’t be caught dead doing that.
I would love to see you ban WoW. It would only prove Israel is a theocracy, not a democracy.
a. I see. When you use pejorative terms its “satire”, when others use pejorative terms its “slur”. Heh
b. There is no such thing as a “second-class” kotel. If the purpose of prayer is worship and communion with god it makes no difference were you stand along his western wall. If the purpose is making a political statement – well that is a completely different story.
c. I find the reform movement position puzzling. The sanctity of the kotel results from its being the last physical remain of the holy temple and the foci of hope for its ultimate rebuilding. The reform movement utterly rejects the concept of sacrificial worship and priestly service. The reform movement utterly rejects any observance preserving the special status of priests such as the prohibition of marrying a divorcee. It does not obligate its members to fast on days commemorating the destruction of the temples nor does it demand them to observe the laws of tithing, a remembrance of the priestly cast in bygone eras.
In other words, the reform movement banished the holy temple and everything related to it from modern Jewish life. Why then this fanatical insistence on praying at the ultimate symbol of this rejected temple in a form that antagonizes most worshipers?
d. You have obviously not visited the kotel for a long time. Here is a description of the egalitarian praying area. You can even see a pic of a peaceful egalitarian service being conducted with no interference.
Any luck yet, breeding that red heifer, Eli?
[Comment deleted: for personal insults against a fellow commenter, you are now banned. So sad to see you go…we’ll miss you!]
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There was a Supreme Court decision in January that determined that the Robinson’s Arch solution does not satisfy requirements as to access. Summary in Times of Israel, January 11, 2017:
“The court decided in favor of the petition claiming that Robinson’s Arch is not “access” to the Western Wall. It wrote, “No full alternative solution has yet been found” in regards to women’s access to the Western Wall. According to the ruling, the government decision proposing the solution of Robinson’s Arch area, which lies to the south of the traditional prayer pavilions, was not realized, therefore the women currently do not have true access.”
Is this decision still in force?
Richard Silverstein says
@ eli: No, you don’t understand what satire is, as I mentioned earlier. Satire must be based on an element of truth. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion & the Makor Rishon cartoon were not based on any truth or fact. On the other hand, the Taliban are brutal fundamentalists as are the rabbinic monopolists & their allies at the Kotel. Hence my phrases are satire & based on a proper truthful comparison.
As for “second class worship,” if your claim is true let’s move the monopolists to RObinson’s Arch even for a single day & see what their response is. You as well as I know they would howl with rage & reject it out of hand. Hence you’re forcing women to accept an option Orthodox men would reject. That puts the lie to yr claim that physical location doesn’t matter regarding prayer.
As for your exposition on Reform theology, I don’t think you’re in any position to tell us about current trends in such matters. Furthermore, the Kotel is much more than a spot where certain sacred physical activities happened like sacrifices overseen by certain religious officials. It is a space bound up in religious aspirations for centuries. Most Jews in the world do not want to resume the Temple rites. Nor do they want a corrupt priestly class ruling over them as happened in ancient times. They see the Kotel as a spot that symbolizes a return to Zion. It is a symbolic space perhaps even more than a physical space. I wouldn’t expect you to understand this since subtlety isn’t a hallmark of intolerant Orthodox Jews like yourself.
There are a few thousand Jews in the entire world who wish to resume the literal physical rites of the Temple. Even if you are generous perhaps there are 100-200,000 who seek such an outcome. Meaning you are in a tiny minority. But that tiny minority would have us join in holy war against Muslims in order to rebuild the Temple. That’s a bargain the rest of us want no part in.
But despite this, these same Jews have every right to pray at the Kotel on equal footing with Orthodox Jews. As I wrote before, you don’t own the place. And you have amazing chutzpah to act as if you do.
You have no idea what I’ve visited or not visited. Those pictures affirm that the current egalitarian space is not at the Kotel Plaza. That’s all that matters.
Is there not a fee and limited hours at Robinson’s Arch whereas the Western Wall arrangement was available 24 hours a day with no fee?
the robinson arch area is open 24/7 with no fee.
as i explained their is no real problem to conduct egalitarian services if one wishes to do so but the point of the WOW group is to do so in a provocative “in your face” way and anatagonize the traditional majority.
Richard Silverstein says
@ eli: Not quite true. Robinson’s Arch is an archaeological site & used to have limited hrs for prayer (it now has 24 hr access though it is still an archaeological site). One of the reasons women reject it as a proper site is that there are excavations going on & materials (boulders, etc.)from the excavation at the prayer site.
There is a very big problem with services there. First it is not in the Kotel Plaza where the Orthodox pray. Second, it is a 2nd class space removed from the main prayer sites. Third, neither the Reform movement nor Supreme Court have accepted it as equal. Please don’t substitute your own personal opinions for those of the victims of Orthodox monopolist religious practices. They aren’t the same.