Friday, May 3, 2013

Mounting Tensions

Long before the Temple was built or Jerusalem was named as its location, its conditionality and impermanence were made explicit in this week's Torah portion, "And I will make desolate your holy places" (Lev. 26:31). Nevertheless, the Mishna (Megilla 3:3) says, "Their holiness persists in their desolation." 

That's why the climax of the Six-Day War, which we will commemorate this coming week as Jerusalem Day, is Motte Gur's declaration "The Temple Mount is in our hands!" But soon we handed administrative control back to the Waqf, an organization with a scary name that simply means "trust" or "endowment," under the aegis of Jordan. They forbid Jews from praying on Mount Moriah, leaving us down in the foothills, back at the Western Wall (Kotel), which is a retaining wall of the mountain, not a remnant of the Temple proper. 

Finding Moria is the easy part; it's getting inside that's the challenge.

Still, it's the closest we can get, and that's why every president, pope and pop star who visits comes to the Wall. They all don their paper kippot and stick their paper kvitlach between the stones. 

And the women? They have their own half of the Wall, and I mean half in the most metaphorical and non-mathematical way, as in "How the Other Half Prays." The men drape their talitot, wrap their tefillin and read their Torah scrolls in their quorums (quora?) of ten. The women at the Wall don't do any of those things.

But the Women of the Wall do, albeit only on the first day of each Hebrew month. Not all go in for tallit and tefillin, but they are there for a communal female experience. Some men of the Wall are less than happy about this, as freely expressed by shouting, cursing and throwing chairs. Why are these men preying instead of praying? Why are they inspecting what's going on beyond the mehitza (partition) which is designed to prevent them from gazing at women? The world may never know.

Men of the Wall actually praying
 Don't worry, the police are always close at hand--to arrest the Women of the Wall. Or detain them. Or question them. They're usually released the same day, which is nice. So it has gone on for a quarter-century, despite various court rulings supporting WoW.

The latest ruling has ignited quite a furor. Denied on appeal, the government is now trying to find a compromise. One suggestion is creating a third, mixed-gender section for prayer. Of course, considering the mixed-gender tourist section, this would actually be the fourth. Or considering the covered men's section, where those with a Y chromosome can find shelter from rain or sun, this would be the fifth. Oh, there's also the consideration that WoW are suing for the right to pray as women, not with men. So... section six?   

Of course, you'd hardly know that from social media. Not an essay, article or post goes by without a string of comments criticizing WoW's sanity, sanctity, sexuality or fashion sense. But those are just the commenters; what about the authors? Let's examine two conspiracy theories making the rounds. 

 1) Women of the Wall want to tear down the mehitza and set hours for single-sex prayer.
Actually, no. This isn't a public pool, it's the Kotel. WoW has never said anything of the sort. What is this based on? I tried to corner a Facebook friend of mine on this. He told me to Google it. Nothing came up. Then he sent me a link to a Tikkun article, but WoW's sole documented complaint about the mehitza was that it was doing a poor job of keeping them safe from chairs, garbage and spit being launched at them. Then he hemmed and hawed and said he must have seen it somewhere and somewhen on Ynet, a local news site. And that was the end of our conversation. 

2) Women of the Wall supported the Temple Mount Faithful, then stabbed them in the back. 

Actually, no again. WoW did classify their respective cases as "apples and oranges" this week. You see, the Temple Mount Faithful want to restore Jewish prayer (and sovereignty and architecture) on the Mount and have sued for the right to pray at our holiest site. Well, not quite, because we're all ritually impure nowadays, so they want to pray at our eighth holiest site, the Temple Mount, since the top seven are off-limits. (Oh, and most rabbis think the Temple Mount is off-limits too, for what it's worth.) One of my colleagues, who goes by the Twitter handle of Adderabbi, wrote about the irony: Jews can't pray on the Temple Mount because Arabs might riot, while WoW can't pray at the Kotel because Jews might riot. Then he tweeted them a link, along with a tagline. They responded, and here's the exchange, which he loves to share.

@Womenofthewall and the Temple Mount Faithful would make strange bedfellows
@Adderabbi we couldn't agree more! At the end of the day our fight is a fight for religious freedom.. FOR ALL!

Did you catch it? See, they agreed when he said that WoW and TMF "would make strange bedfellows." That means that their cases are equivalent, right? And then they said something about religious freedom for everyone, which means... which means... What does it mean? If they had said something about the Temple Mount, or addressed geography at all, or said "all Jews," that would certainly make things less ambiguous. They must have issued a press release, right? No. Stated it publicly in an interview? No. Posted something on their site? Well, that they did, namely Adderabbi's blog post, at least its first few lines and a link to the rest, dubbing him a "WOW supporter." Well, I think that's legally binding, then. Wouldn't want to be a welsher (apologies to my Welsh readers). If you can't trust individual direct tweets and links, where will it end? Will liking something on Facebook no longer be a binding contract? I weep for our future--excuse me, if we're talking about the Wall, I should be Wailing.  

Speaking of the future, it is Jerusalem Day on Wednesday, and then the new moon on Friday. I hope the only fireworks will be the ones the municipality planned. 

Say, what exactly are all these people ardently fighting to pray for? Oh right, peace.

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