Trouble Brewing at the Kosel

One of the great audacities of Jewish history is an ingenious idea hatched by those who seek to undermine Torah Judaism. As innovators of a new dogma only partially based on Judaism, they sought and obtained labels with which they could separate themselves from the practice of their forefathers.

However, in order to suit their purposes, it would hardly suffice for them to be described as Reform Jews or Conservative Jews, while those who stayed true to traditional observance would retain their age-old title of Jews. Semantics are important, and such a scenario would be far too revealing of their true status as breakaway groups who, for all practical purposes, created their own new religion.

Determined to be seen as an equally legitimate branch of Judaism, they decided to create a label for Torah Jews, as well.

As Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch pointed out a century and a half ago, it was not the “Orthodox” Jews who introduced the word “orthodoxy” into Jewish discussion. It was the modern, “progressive” Jews who first applied this name to “old,” “backward” Jews as a derogatory term.

“This name was at first resented by ‘old’ Jews. And rightly so,” Harav Hirsch insisted. “‘Orthodox’ Judaism does not know any varieties of Judaism. … It does not know Orthodox and Liberal Jews. It does, indeed, know conscientious and indifferent Jews, good Jews, bad Jews or baptized Jews; all, nevertheless, Jews with a mission which they cannot cast off. They are only distinguished accordingly as they fulfill or reject their mission.”

Much to our dismay, this tactic proved to be highly successful.

In the Diaspora, those who practice traditional Judaism are known as “Orthodox,” or even more pejoratively, “ultra-Orthodox;” in Israel, the labels “dati” and “chareidi” are used. What can only be described as historical fiction is now widely accepted as fact: Observant Jews are now viewed as one group among many, instead of the only rightful heirs of our glorious heritage.

This fiction is playing a significant role in the current saga unfolding in Israel in regard to the self-described Nashot Hakotel. (Nashot is, in itself, a fictional word, created by feminists disturbed by the fact that “nashim” sounds too masculine.)

For 24 years this small group of individuals has sought to force its agenda on the regular mispallelim at the Kosel. Because of their insignificant numbers and the outrageousness of their proposals, few took them seriously.

Now they have been joined by members of the Knesset seeking to further their own agenda of redefining Judaism in Israel. This battle of “mi Yehudi” isn’t about the halachic staus of conversions but about the very description of what it means to be a Jew. Their clear goal is  the establishment of a society of Jews without any connection to Har Sinai. Adding to this mix is a court system with a similar axe to grind, and the threat being posed by this handful of provocateurs has become very real.

Despite the smokescreens and the endless stream of propaganda that is being spread about, this issue isn’t about women wearing a tallis, saying Kaddish, or even reading from the Torah. In a recent speech in South Florida, Anat Hoffman, the leader of the group, hinted at her real agenda — to tear down the mechitzah at the Kosel and turn the holiest spot on earth into a Reform temple, Rachmana litzlan.

“Let’s share time,” she said, according to the local Sun Sentinel. For six hours a day the Kosel will be a “national monument, open to others but not to Orthodox men,” she suggested.

Hoffman herself is affiliated with the Reform movement, but her Conservative colleagues have been equally supportive of her agenda. Steven C. Wernick is a clergyman who serves as the CEO of the New United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. In his fervent defense of Hoffman, he has decried what he calls the “existential threat Israel is facing by extremist religious forces within the Jewish State, specifically, from its Chief Rabbinate.”

The notion that those who continue to faithfully practice the tenets of our faith in the same manner as dictated to us on Har Sinai are to be considered an “existential threat” is the height of hypocrisy, if not lunacy.

Yet, as the recent court decisions and rumblings in the Knesset have shown, the truth no longer matters in Israel.

What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that the members of the Knesset who have joined Hoffman’s bandwagon, supporters, and media pundits continually refer to the pressure of “American Jewry” as the primary force behind the efforts to alter the longstanding status quo. Yet what parts of American Jewry do Hoffman and Wernick really represent? They certainly don’t represent Torah Jewry, who, as the statistics clearly show, represent not only the Judaism of the past and present, but also of the future. Nor do they represent the majority of unaffiliated Jews, and even member of their own affiliations. Most of these Jews may be tragically ignorant of their own heritage, but they harbor no hatred to Torah-true Jews and have no interest in creating unnecessary conflict.

It doesn’t take an expert in theology or history to recognize that while the Kosel may be a must-see stop for tourists and pilgrims, it is the Torah Jews who actually daven at the Kosel on a daily basis. It is the Torah Jews who make their way to these holy stones at every hour of the day and night, and it is their eyes that have shed rivulets of years at this site. We are the ones who arrive here at sunrise for Vasikin, at midnight for Tikun Chatzos and who walk for miles to be able to daven there on Shabbosos and Yamim Tovim.

For us, the Kosel isn’t about chareidim or chilonim, about right-wingers and left-wingers. It is about Hashem and His Torah, and paying respect to the Shechinah Which has never departed from this wall.