Rosh Chodesh Tammuz came and went this past Sunday. As Jews have done every day for millennia, we turned our hearts to Jerusalem in prayer. Since it was Rosh Chodesh, the eyes, and media, of a nation were turned to the Kotel as well, to catch this month’s installment of “WoW,” the ongoing tragicomedy of those Women of the Wall (WoW) and their redefining of time-honored traditions.
It is said that women are connected to the moon, the heavenly sphere that ushers in the new month. Like the moon, the WoW wax and wane with varying levels of support on a month-to-month basis. The beginning of Tammuz waxed strong for the WoW with a significantly better than average turnout, estimated to be around 250-300 supporters (though the media tend to inflate numbers attending liberal gatherings). But, unlike the moon, the presence of the WoW waned to zero the day after Rosh Chodesh.
In contrast there were far fewer counter-protestors on Rosh Chodesh itself, but on the second of Tammuz, the number of the faithful who came to pray stayed steady like the sun.
Respected Rabbanim within the chareidi orbit requested that only older or married men attend Rosh Chodesh davening at the Kotel, figuring that they would present a calmer and more mature counter to the WoW. But the police had their own plans, and prevented thousands of peaceful chareidim from coming to daven at the Kotel.
Commenting on the situation, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Kotel and the Holy Places, complained about the situation, saying that “police had turned the Kotel into a closed fort in order to allow Women of the Wall to engage in their provocative activities. Such actions are shameful. Police set up barricades among those who have come to pray, kept the bathrooms closed and prevented worshippers from even coming to the Kotel, causing great damage to the principle of equality that the site is supposed to represent.”
I cannot imagine the anguish that Rabbi Rabinowitz experienced this past Sunday and months past when he would witness the Kotel, the holy site meant to unite Judaism, become instead the backdrop to this battle. The WoW also claimed that they felt caged by the barriers placed to maintain decorum. So now instead of prayer being a liberating act, everyone was constrained. At the end of the service, the police escorted the WoW to a nearby site and ushered them onto buses. It is a sad fact that the measure of success in some eyes for Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel is that no chairs were thrown or arrests made.
It would seem self-evident that everyone would find some happiness in the discernible lessening of negative interaction between the chareidim and the WoW. This, however, was apparently not the case, according to a Rebbetzin I spoke with who was davening at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh morning. The Rebbetzin lives in the greater New York area and is married to a Rabbi who runs one of the leading kiruv learning programs in the world. She is entirely comfortable with Jews of different backgrounds and levels of observance. She told me that the only people who seemed disappointed that there were no altercations were the media and some of the Women of the Wall. She said that of all the chareidi women who were davening at the Kotel, only three were antagonistic to the WoW (she felt they may have not been altogether stable) and she noted that the media, not surprisingly, focused almost exclusively on them. She added that from her perspective, the WoW were trying to engage other women around them and were looking forward to some level of confrontation, and were disappointed when it did not occur.
As mentioned, there were more supporters for the WoW than any Rosh Chodesh, perhaps in their entire history. They have become a cause celebre and attracted more politicians and activists than usual.
Endeavoring to find some good in this, I offer the following: Refocusing the attention of the Jewish people and getting Jews to talk about Judaism and Hashem is positive. I am not, of course, advocating the methods of prayer or protest of the WoW, but getting Jews to visit the Kotel, many of whom have not visited recently or perhaps ever, is positive. There can be no denying the inspirational quality and sense of majesty when crossing the Kotel plaza, and considering that this is merely a slight shadow of the magnificence of what was. The real thoughts and prayers of those who stood before the Kotel is a matter between them and Hashem, regardless of the cacophony they made. We can only have faith that the Kotel made some positive, Torah-true impression upon the WoW.
I genuinely believe that if the WoW accepted the proposal of establishing an area for them near Robinson’s Arch and were left alone with no protests, within three months they would disappear like any strange variants of Judaism have done through our history, and perhaps many would embrace the enduring traditions of Torah.
Truly, I wish this past Rosh Chodesh Tammuz were the last month in which such events take place, but I suspect this may not be the case. The WoW and some radical fringe elements who look like chareidim would be wise to remember and find inspiration in the words of Hillel: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
The nation of Israel, all of which turns to the “Wall” in prayer needs the “Operation” that Hashem promises in sefer Devarim. Hashem desires that the hearts of both men and women be circumcised so we should “not be stiff-necked any longer” and so we “may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” If only a simple operation could heal the wounds within the body of Israel.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com.