Thank you for another thoughtful column. (The “Wall” controversy and support of Israel)
I have a follow-up question.
I was in Israel recently and many Israelis asked, “Why do your American Jewish leaders care so much about the Wall; it’s only bricks and cement and not even part of the original Temple?
“We in Israel have so many more and greater problems such as poverty, income inequality, … taking in Jews from across the world and integrating them into our society, with all this why is the Diaspora leadership so focused on a wall?”
I did not have a good answer; I saw the problems he spoke about but had no response. Any insights on this?
— Gary in Plano
Thanks for your feedback and your painful but crucial question.
I will add an additional question; why does the heterodox Jewish leadership desire to hold prayers at the Wall? Keeping things in context, the Wall was the outer structure which surrounded the Temple courtyard, a protective wall for the service performed in the Temple. What was the Temple worship? Animal sacrifice! Whether a sin-offering, a peace-offering or any of a diverse protocol of offerings, the main focus of the Temple worship was animal sacrifice.
Furthermore, this worship was entirely carried out by males, the Cohanim or priests. Although a female was allowed to bring an offering and at times was obligated to, the actual service was conducted by males only. This is all explicit throughout the Book of Leviticus and the oral tradition. Jews have prayed fervently for the past 2,000 years for the rebuilding of the Temple, for which the Wall stands, for the return of precisely that worship which we mention. This is explicit in the words of the traditional daily prayer service, the Siddur, in numerous prayers.
These concepts are anathema to heterodox Jewish doctrine. The very idea of animal sacrifice is abhorred and relegated to primitive, barbaric cultures. (The deeper, true meaning of this service would take another column.) Furthermore, it’s a completely male-dominated service. Lastly, we derive the tradition of praying with a mechitzah, a separation between men and women, from the Temple service (Talmud Sukkah 51b).
Being that the Wall stands for all this, I find it hard to understand why the heterodox leadership would want to pray there. Furthermore, the ability to pray as one wishes at such a spot should certainly not be higher on the agenda than the physical and emotional welfare of the Israeli poor.
To claim that the Wall no longer represents the Temple service and is nothing more than a popular public square is simply not being intellectually honest.
I challenge the many American Jews who have been less than punctilious in their synagogue attendance to explain why they find it so crucial to pray “their way,” or any way, at the Wall? Is this truly stemming from a deep spiritual desire to connect to their Creator? Or, perhaps, does the fact that they are not allowed to pray their way at this holy site suggest that their way is inferior to the traditional service, something they are not willing to give a pass to? This, sadly, would be a political, not spiritual, motivation. When an argument becomes political and personal, it has the potential of taking precedence even over those things one considers most dear, such as welfare of the poor and the like.
I challenge the leadership threatening to make their support of Israel contingent upon their ability to pray as they like at the Wall to honestly consider these points.
Lastly, I would like to believe that, deep down, this battle is emanating from the purity of the Jewish soul — that which Jews have referred to for millennia as the pintela Yid, the spark of holiness in a Jew. We all, regardless of our background or affiliation, in the recesses of our soul identify with the Wall and all that it represents. We all are trying to find a way to make it our own and connect with it.
Perhaps we would be well to learn from the well-known adage, “When you’re in Rome, do as the Romans do.” When you’re at the Temple, do as the Jews did at the Temple!
We all have our synagogues and temples to pray in, as we wish, throughout the world. Perhaps we can find it within ourselves to have one place in the entire world where we can just forget everything else and all be the same; embrace each other at the same service, with the highest common denominator so that nobody will be excluded; join together in the spirit of brotherly love and peace. Perhaps, just maybe, if we do so we will be rewarded from Above with the final building of the Temple and the ingathering of our exiles for all time.