For much of the past two centuries, Torah Judaism was forced to wage a constant, fierce battle for its very existence as it sought to counter one of the greatest frauds perpetrated in modern times.
From the very beginnings of what was then known as the haskalah movement, Gedolei Yisrael saw it as an existential threat. With the passage of the decades, it became ever more apparent how prescient their appraisal of this new movement was. The leaders of the reform were never satisfied with tearing away much of the youth from the hallowed path faithfully kept by their forefathers for generations through fraudulently selling their movement as a legitimate form of Judaism. They even had the audacity to label Torah Jews as “Orthodox” a label that has sadly stuck to this very day. As Harav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch so eloquently said it “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. ‘Orthodox’ Judaism does not know any varieties of Judaism. It conceives Judaism as one and indivisible.”
City after city, town after town, fell into the hands of the reform, decimating much of Western Europe, and leaving a devastating trail of destruction in Eastern Europe as well.
The United States, from almost coast to coast, was considered reform territory to such a degree that by 1926 one NYC professor predicted that within 50 years, Orthodox Judaism would cease to exist.
It was only due to the mesirus nefesh of the Torah-true Jews of those generations, under the fearless leadership of Gedolei Yisrael, leaders of those generations, and the great siyatta diShmaya they merited, that this professor proven wrong.
In recent years, as Torah Judaism merited a miraculous rebirth from the ashes of the Holocaust, with vibrant, rapidly growing communities along with the flourishing yeshivos, and conversely, as the reform communities saw their members dwindling and their influence fading, the tensions between the two camps significantly subsided. The overwhelming majority of reform Jews in America are tinokos shenishbu, whose rich heritage has been stolen from them due to no fault of their own, have no malice to their Orthodox brethren and have no interest in interfering with our way of life.
Surprisingly enough, it is in Eretz Yisrael, a land where the primary spiritual danger has long emanated from secular Zionism, and the reform population is relatively negligible, that there is now a new battleground.
In the latest chapter in the anguish-filled saga over the Kosel, the justices of the High Court of Israel issued a ruling on Wednesday which hinted that it is moving in the direction of ordering the government to accommodate outrageous demands of the reform-backed confrontation-seeking female provocateurs.
As we have previously noted in these pages, no mortal has the right to negotiate away the sanctity of the Kosel or sit idly by while it is being desecrated. Even if these provocateurs would indeed limit their nefarious plans to the Kosel, we dare not remain silent. But in reality, the Kosel is only the first step within a much broader battle plan.
This week, as part of our multi-week special coverage of the crisis over the Kosel, in the first of a two-part series, Rabbi Yaakov Menken explores the historical background leading up to this battle, and the real agenda of these provocateurs and their backers.
As Rabbi Menken writes, their real goal is to change the definition of Judaism in Israel, and seize control of the foundations of Jewish life: marriage, divorce, and conversion.
There are some who question the wisdom of turning this into a protracted battle at a time when Am Yisrael faces so many other threats and enemies.
A century-and-a-half ago, writing in his journal Jeschurun, Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, brilliantly responded to this challenge.
“Is not peace also a sacred value to the conscience of the Orthodox Jew? Is not shalom more important to him than any other consideration?” Rav Hirsch asks.
“Certainly not!” is his immediate response. “There are indeed circumstances under which I may, and indeed must, give up everything that is mine for the sake of preserving peace. There are circumstances under which I may, and indeed must, give up my property, my legal claims, and even refrain from making some injudicious remark in my social relationships, in order to preserve the peace, or to restore it. But I cannot restrain myself with what is not mine but G-d’s, the Divinely uttered truth, the integrity of my life. My peace with G-d, my peace with my conscience cannot be for sale. I must not sacrifice these values afterwards. Only once you have assured for yourself the truth of G-d, and you have obtained clarity about the truth of your own way of life may you seek peace with your fellow men.” (From “Secession From the Community,” Collected Writings, Volume VI)
These words remain as true and relevant today as they were a century and half ago. This is not a time for restraint but a time of action. The deafening silence of American Orthodoxy must come to an end and we must do our part to rise to the defense of the last remnant of the Beis Hamikdash.