I'm still a novice at blogging so I don't know how to put this in chronological order. This is my account of what transpired at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, (May 10, 2013).
ROSH CHODESH SIVAN AT THE KOTEL - A Blessing on My Head - Mazal Tov!
Dispatch from the front lines of Women of the Wall
To the Editor:
I would like to add my two cents to what people have and will be
talking about today, because I was at the Women of the Wall’s service
I don’t get to the service very often, as I work during the week and
am only free on Fridays. Over the years I have attended a couple of
times a year. Even when I still lived in the Boston area and served as a
congregational rabbi on the North Shore, I often managed to attend. I
remember, before Robinson’s Arch, going with Women of the Wall from the
back of the Ezrat Nashim (women’s prayer area) up the stairs (Torah in a
duffel bag) to a small archaeological park with an amazing view. And
I’ve been to the Robinson’s Arch part of the wall for the Torah service
It sounded like, after the recent court decisions, that women would now
be free to don tallit and tefillin in the women’s prayer area itself.
The court ruled that this is not illegal.And so, I got up at 4 a.m. this morning and traveled to Jerusalem
full of anticipation with two other women from Ra’anana, which is a bit
north of Tel Aviv.
The service was marred by the “call to arms” yesterday in a number of
communities in Israel for young women students to come to the Kotel
prayer area by 6:30 a.m. (Women of the Wall’s service begins at 7 a.m.)
and fill up the entire women’s prayer area. Indeed, hundreds — if not
more — young people did exactly that. The area where Women of the Wall
usually pray together at the back of the women’s prayer area was
completely filled with young Orthodox women protesters who didn’t
exactly understand what they were doing there and had not only filled up
the prayer area but milled around in huge numbers outside of that area
Eventually, Women of the Wall began their service outside the prayer
area (immediately behind it) because there was no other space. I give a
lot of credit to the shlichot tsibur (prayer leaders) who, in the face
of very loud jeering and whistle-blowing and shouting and other
shenanigans from the back and sides of the men’s section, led the women
in prayer and song. This, despite the obvious attempts to make a mockery
of the Rosh Chodesh prayer service.
I saw the daughter of one of the women participants in the service
get hit in the head during the davening by a rock that was thrown. At
the end of the service, as we were preparing under heavy police guard to
leave the area of the Kotel, I was hit in the head by a half-full water
bottle lobbed from the jeering crowd. I picked it up after regaining my
composure and took a look at the label. It read: “Brachah” (blessing).
So indeed, I received a “blessing on my head” this Rosh Chodesh Sivan at
The classic tale of Tisha
b’Av hatred – Kamtza and Bar Kamtza
The version below is retold by Rabbi Benjamin Rapaport. I've highlighted a few points...But the main point is: what I and others experienced at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Av last week is exactly this hatred.
And what many Jews here in Israel (and outside of Israel, for that matter) have been subjected to by being called "Amalek" by a prominent rabbi from a different group is equally that. Sinaah - שנאה- hatred. And we're doing it again to each other... We Jews just don't learn...
Tisha B’Av: The Greatest
Understanding the story that sparked the
destruction of the Temple.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, on the 9th of Av, the heart of the Jewish people, the Holy Temple, was set on fire.
Since then, our history has been filled with scattering and suffering. Like
many broken and burnt hearts, it started with a mistake that turned into a
fight that escalated to epic proportions. To heal and rebuild, we need to
understand what went wrong and what we can do to fix it. It began with a party. Like most parties, there
were the invited, the not invited, and the exceptionally unwelcome. Bar Kamtza
had the misfortune of both being invited and being exceptionally unwelcome. In
family affairs this happens sometimes, but here it was unintentional.
The host of the party had a friend and an enemy,
whose names were quite similar, one called Kamtza and the other Bar Kamtza. Since it was a fancy affair, hand-delivered
invitations were sent out. Unfortunately, the messenger confused the friend and
the enemy, and delivered an invitation to the wrong person, who subsequently
came to the party.
It is surprising that Bar Kamtza would go the party
of someone whom he knew disliked him. Perhaps he thought that the invitation
was a move toward reconciliation and therefore was happy to receive it, showing
up to demonstrate his own willingness to put aside the past. In light of this,
what happened next is even more tragic.
Upon seeing his enemy at his home, enjoying the
food he had provided, the host, feeling quite incensed, told this
invited/unwelcome guest to get out of his house immediately. Rejection, and all
the more so such a public rejection, would be very painful to Bar Kamtza. He
tried to reason with the host and pleaded,
“Please don’t throw me out. I will pay
you for whatever I eat, but please do not embarrass me.”
The host refused.
“I will pay you for the cost of your entire party,
just please do not force me to leave.”
The host refused and threw him out.
It is remarkable that it was worth more to the host
to hold on to his hatred than to have his entire party paid for in full. In any
case it was a bad move, and things got worse from there. The Sages of the
generation were present at this gala affair and did not protest the host’s
treatment of Bar Kamtza.
Now, Bar Kamtza, by this time was in a pretty bad
mood. When he saw all the Sages sitting there silently, he concluded that the
way he was being treated was fine with them. If so, they were also to blame and
he would take his revenge on them as well.
Bar Kamtza went to the Roman authorities and told
them that the Jews were rebelling against them. They asked for proof. He said
to them, “Send a sacrifice to be offered in their Holy Temple and you will see
that they will refuse your sacrifice.” The Romans sent an animal with Bar
Kamtza to the Holy Temple to check what he was saying.
On the way, Bar Kamtza made a slight blemish to the
animal that would render it unfit according to Jewish law. When he got to the
Temple some Sages argued that they should offer the sacrifice anyway because
not to do so would be endangering their lives. Their opinion was not heeded.
Some suggested that they should kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go back
to the Romans and incite them against the Jews. This opinion was also not heeded.
In the end, the offering was not brought up, and Bar Kamtza took his revenge by
going back to the Romans and slandering the Jews, leading to the destruction of
the Holy Temple, the loss of many lives, and our subsequent exile.
If we consider the centrality of this story in the
destruction of the Holy Temple, and the level of tragedy that resulted from it,
it stands to reason that it is about more than just a dislike between two
people. When we take a closer look, we see that it is a story about a lacking
in the humanity of the Jewish people as a whole, from the greatest scholars to
the common man. There is a question that
screams out from beginning to end: Why
didn’t anyone do anything? Hatred is seeing others in pain and danger, and not caring enough to get
up and do something.
When Bar Kamtza was publicly shamed, why did no one
try to help him? When Bar Kamtza later came to take vengeance, threatening the
lives of the entire Jewish people, why do we find no dialogue trying to appease
him? At the very least, he should have been killed in self-defense as the
Talmud teaches that if someone comes to kill you – kill him first! The level of
passivity that we find when it came to considering others’ welfare, whether
emotionally, as in the case of Bar Kamtza’s shame, or physically in the case of
his revenge, is astounding. Where was our humanity?
When the Sages taught that the Holy Temple was
destroyed because of baseless hatred, this is what they were referring to. Hatred is not just actively doing others harm.
It is also about not caring. It is about seeing others in pain, others in
danger, and not caring enough to get up and do something. If we think
about, treating others like they do not exist is the greatest hatred.
If we wish to rebuild the Holy Temple, we need to begin with our hearts. When we care enough to really see
the people that are around us, whether they are our spouses, children, work
associates, or neighbors, we are laying the foundation of our sanctuary. Each
time we move beyond ourselves and take action to make a positive difference in
the life of another, we are adding a golden brick. With time, sensitivity, and
positive action, we have the power to heal and rebuild the heart of our nation
and build a holiness that will last forever.
Once you hear the maddening hoots and whistles blowing you will ask yourself how one Jew can behave that way to another....
Rosh Chodesh Av – 5773, at the Kotel – My Heart is Broken
Today, Rosh Chodesh Av, I am
sad. I am so very sad, disappointed, distressed, heartsick and deeply troubled.
Yes, I who am known for my usual cheerful disposition and upbeat nature, am
deeply troubled. I was genuinely dumb-struck this morning while at the Kotel
with the monthly Women of the Wall prayers. Sorry that the police did not allow
us to enter into the women’s section, already cordoned off last Rosh Chodesh
(Tammuz) to accommodate the Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh prayers, but sorrier
still to discover that the jeering, whistle blowing (yes this time the Chareidi
women were blowing whistles with a
vengeance, just as the men had done two months ago, driving me and my prayers to
distraction (!)) and that the apparent hatred we were greeted with is not as
superficial as I had thought (hoped).
I was truly shaken today. Not
only by the mockery and hatred I saw plainly on so many Chareidi faces in the
face-off between the police barriers, but by the genuine heart-hatred I
It’s one thing for an angry
whistle blower to ‘look’ disdainful or to call me an abomination. It is quite
another (in spite of all that) to lean over the barrier and ask at least a
dozen or more Chareidi girls and women if they would do me a favor.
You see, I have a friend who,
like Angela Jolie, is having surgery later today in Boston. Like Angela Jolie,
she too carries that potentially dangerous gene BCRA
1. She will be operated on today, Rosh
Chodesh Av, in a hospital in Boston. Chana
bat Nitsah is her name. Please pray for her full recovery – refuah shleimah.
I went to the prayers today
with a k’vittel (a small piece of
paper with a request for healing for her) to be hopefully placed in a crevice
of the Kotel, tucked into my siddur.But, the police did not allow the Women of the Wall to even enter the
women’s prayer section or to get close to the Kotel. So I reached out – I
leaned over the police barrier and implored, begged, pleaded with young
Chariedi girls and teens and older women (who had completely free access to the
would you do a mitzvah for me – for my friend – and place this note in the
Again and again I beseeched
the Chareidi women. They not only spurned my request, but they cursed me (on
Rosh Chodesh Av!!!). They cursed my friend. They said things like:
your fault”, “She deserves it”, “May she _____ from cancer” [God forbid] and so
These were deep and emotionally
laden responses. Young women (girls, really) uttering such things is shocking.
This is what they have been taught. I didn’t really expect this; I wasn’t
prepared for such rancor and scorn. I was shaken to my core. How can we pray as
Am Echad (one nation) when we are so
divided by hatred?
What I saw and experienced
this morning was venomous contempt. Certainly we all know that during the days
preceding Tisha b’Av (the 9th
of the month of Av) we are meant to be so very careful… We are meant to avoid l’shon ha-ra and all baseless hatred – sina’at chinam. Our tradition teaches
that it was because of this that the Beit
haMikdash, theHoly Temple was destroyed. And here we
were in 2013 - 1st of Av, 5773 –
broadcasting such hatred.
On the bus on the way out of the Kotel area, I
was struck by a sign I saw:
“We care and will listen to every word of
yours” it says. I wish that we could all
“listen” and “hear”.
What a day! Blue skies, sunny, 70+degrees (F) and a mild breeze. I would almost want to dub today balmy… And many families in the town of Ra’a’nana where I live and vote, could be seen leisurely walking together to and from the voting polls and to shopping and cafés. In contrast to the weekly Friday mad dash to get everything done before Shabbat, there was a distinctly relaxed atmosphere today. Most people were in shirtsleeves, some in shorts and t-shirts (especially the joggers). Mid-January and we were having a spring-like day.
What a treat! Especially after the major winter storms of two weeks ago with rivers overflowing highways and snow in Jerusalem and in the Galilee and in the Golan, today gave no hint of what the country experienced two weeks ago — except for the children jumping up and down in the snow outside Ra’a’nana’s large shopping mall complex and throwing snowballs made from the snow trucked down here from the Hermon Mountains in the early morning hours today for their enjoyment.
I walked the 5 blocks or so to my polling place, while stopping to chat with some people I recognized from the neighborhood. No one was rushing (a rare phenomenon in Israel)! No one appeared stressed. Just outside the polling place, in my case, a local elementary school, I saw banners and posters and flyers promoting a range of candidates — not all the candidates — just the most notable parties: Likud-Beiteinu, HaBayit haYehudi (Naftali Bennett’s party), Yair Lapid’s party, Tsipi Livni’s T’nua party, Labor, and maybe one or two others. Young volunteers politely offered pamphlets to those still undecided voters. There was a festive atmosphere.
Inside, there were a few lines depending on what your voter card said. Line 16 looked to be the longest. My line, 93, had two people before me.It was very relaxed (yes of course there was an armed guard outside the building, but that was not prominent). Standing at the entrance to the room where I would vote, I could see there were about 5 volunteer election ‘officials’ at a long table in a row.One took your ID card and found you on the pre-printed computerized list, one person recorded your name and ID number, one person held onto your ID until you finished voting. Another handed you the envelope and pointed you in the direction of the cardboard “booth”.
Inside the booth was a rectangular tray with little spaces for each of the party’s ballot slips. called a ‘petek’ in Hebrew, with identifying letters (a one, two or three letter catchword/slogan that had been assigned to each party during the campaign and had appeared for weeks on their literature and advertisements).
Each voter selects his party’s ballot slip. And this little slip of paper, this ‘petek’ is what one puts in the envelope behind the privacy of the cardboard booth. You close and seal the envelope, step out of the ‘booth’, walk past a cardboard ballot box perched on a chair, drop your envelope inside the slot, return to the table, retrieve your ID card and walk out.
That’s it! No forms! No computer crashes! Primitive though it may sound, there was really nothing to ‘break down’ or ‘crash’ or leave one wondering whether his or her vote was actually recorded.
Now, I’m a long time computer junkie myself. I’m proud to say I had one of the first Macs (the ‘box’) back in 1984-85, so I’m no technophobe. BUT, I have to say that compared to my experience during the Likkud primaries a short while ago, there was something so simple and wholesome about today’s voting process.
It was a breeze!
Now I did hear on the radio later about some isolated conflicts here and there in other towns, but I saw no such problems here in Ra’a’nana as I walked around town past other polling places. It looked pretty much the same. Families were out leisurely walking with their children, stopping here and there to shop, taking the kids to the plaza outside Yad l’Banim to play in that (rapidly melting) mound of snow (or driving to the mall). It was all so uncharacteristically relaxed.