April 9, 2013
Responding to Allegations of ‘Totalitarianism’ and to Other Saner Remarks About my Kotel Story
My Sunday article, Anat Hoffman Might Be on the Verge of Becoming a Jewish Hero, made some waves, and for good reason. In it, I lay out what I largely believe is going to be the "deal" that will be offered to resolve the issue of Western Wall grievances. Talks between the head of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky and groups of American Jewish religious leaders are taking place this week (even today), and in these meetings he is likely to give them a sense of what he'll be proposing the government of Israel should do. If you want to read more about the details, take a look at Sunday's post – as I don't want to repeat myself, this post will solely deal with comments and responses which I got by mail, via Facebook, or by other means.
The responses can be divided into three main groups:
One of the most encouraging responses I got was from rabbi Asher Lopatin of Chicago. He wrote to me:
Why do I find this encouraging? Because Rabbi Lopatin also seems to see the potential I see in the new "southern" section of the Kotel. Of course, one can spend a lifetime complaining about the "other" part of the Kotel, asking "why do we have to move and not them?", and whining about "them" still not letting women pray as they wish at the "northern" section. OR: one can seize an opportunity and take part in something that can be truly exciting, something which has the potential to make the Kotel a place where all Jews feel comfortable. Like rabbi Lopatin, I too believe that many Orthodox Jews – when they have the choice – will also choose the tolerant section. And I believe that mixing Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and ‘just plain’ Jews, is ultimately good for the Jewish people.
So this response definitely belongs to the C category from above, but I'd have to respond to queries and concerns of the other two categories as well. Let me begin with the personal stuff and get it off my chest.
Rachel Cohen Yeshurun wrote, in a response posted bellow my article:
Rosner wants to preserve the ever growing religious totalitarianism at the Kotel.
She wasn't the only one making such comments, which are clearly unfounded and uncalled for. There's nothing I'd like to see more than an end to "religious totalitarianism"- both at the Kotel and in general. I'd also like to see an end to knuckle-headedness, and an end to people calling everyone with whom they don’t agree ‘a bigot’. Cohen Yeshurun - a member of WoW – also wrote that "it took 2000 years for male Jews to be able to pray freely at the Kotel and we still haven't returned to the Temple Mount. Justice is always worth struggling for, no matter how long it takes to achieve it".
I guess this means she'd prefer battling against other Jews for the next 2000 years over accepting a landmark proposal now – because it's not the proposal she was hoping for. I respect her choice, but don't agree with it. Putting me in the camp of religious totalitarians because of this preference seems to be quite a stretch; putting Sharansky in that camp – as other commentators have in recent days – is juvenile chutzpah. Besides, I don't expect such an approach to be very useful in getting Cohen Yeshurun and her friends the support of many Israelis. And with all due respect to the opinions of all Jews – Israelis will ultimately be the ones to decide how the Kotel will be managed.
Now let's discuss the more serious stuff.
A big problem the non-Orthodox Jews have with accepting the proposed deal in the making is that they assume the Orthodox A. will say that they actually won the battle, B. won't be humiliated by being forced to make room for other Jews, C. claim that the "southern" part of the Wall is not the real deal. These three assumptions are all reasonable. However, the conclusion drawn by Birkner Mack and others is far from being obvious. Here's why:
Rahel Jaskow wrote this:
There's something about this claim: the battle was originally waged by a group of women, many of them Orthodox, but is now perceived as being a battle between "progressive" Jews (namely, Reform and Conservative) against Orthodox rule. Again, three points:
Last note: The Jewish Forward posted a story today about the proposed plan (you can read it here). It rightly says that the deal "would mark a dramatic acknowledgement by the state of Israel that prayer at the Wall — regarded as Judaism’s holiest site and a modern-day symbol of national sovereignty — should include non-Orthodox practice in which men and women pray together". The Forward got it right. It is dramatic. Which brings me back to the conclusion of my Sunday story: "I hope to see the reformers cashing in, becoming heroes, and rejoicing in having won a just battle".