It's the same in any lingo

בַּת-בָּבֶל, הַשְּׁדוּדָה: אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם-לָךְ-- אֶת-גְּמוּלֵךְ, שֶׁגָּמַלְתּ לָנוּ
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ אֶת-עֹלָלַיִךְ-- אֶל-הַסָּלַע


How can one be compelled to accept slavery? I simply refuse to do the master's bidding. He may torture me, break my bones to atoms and even kill me. He will then have my dead body, not my obedience. Ultimately, therefore, it is I who am the victor and not he, for he has failed in getting me to do what he wanted done. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? If not now, when? ~ Rav Hillel, Pirke Avot

This Red Sea Pedestrian Stands against Judeophobes

This Red Sea Pedestrian Stands against Judeophobes
Wear It With Pride

30 July 2008

On the Kotel, Gender, and Pampers


There has been a lot of flappity flap the past few days about the freshman Senator from Illinois and his visit to the Western Wall, in Hebrew; Ha Kotel (the Wall). What's it all about Pampers?

The Kotel represents the remnant of the holiest site to the Jewish people. It is commonly referred to as the holiest site in Judaism, but this is in fact a misnomer. The holiest place in Judaism is the site of the Holy of Holies, the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Temple complex; a place that could only be entered by the High Priest on certain days of the year, and after a lengthy series of purification rituals. It is commonly held that the site of the Holy of Holies is now covered by the Dome of the Rock, also known as the Mosque of Omar, marking the site where Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven. It is also the site where Abraham bound Isaac in preparation to sacrifice him to God. Small wonder then that this relatively small spot of land at the top of Mount Moriah is the most contested place on earth.

King Solomon built the first Temple, which was destroyed in 586 BCE (before the common era; Jews don't say "before Christ" for obvious reasons) by the Babylonians, who clapped the Jews in chains and dragged the majority of the nation in captivity to Babylon. The Second Temple was built on the remnants of the first by King Herod, which was raised and burned by the Romans in the year 70 CE. It was commonly held among Jews that the Kotel, the western outer retaining wall of the Temple complex, was the only part of the structure that remained intact. Archeological discoveries of the past 30 years have revealed that the steps used by the Israelites to enter the Temple were also intact, as are the portal entrances at the southern wall (though they were stoned over and are unusable). The Kotel however retains its stature due to it being closer to the site of the Holy of Holies.

From the time of the Roman destruction of the Second Temple there remained a Jewish presence in the old city of Jerusalem. Access to the Kotel was denied to Jews at various points in history, most notably between 1948 and 1967 when the Jordanian army occupied the old city, as well as the area commonly referred to as the West Bank. It was a tremendous, and miraculous day when the Israeli army drove out the Jordanian occupiers in June of 1967, reunified the city, and once again made it accessible to Moslems, Jews, and Christians.

Today the Kotel is the place that Jewish pilgrims from all over the world are drawn to. It represents a taste of the ancient seat of our spiritual home, the place on earth where it is said the Divine Presence dwelled on earth. It is a symbol of Jewish nationalism. It is a place that for me is enigmatic. There, at the foundation of our most holy of places there is a divide, a fence. In Hebrew it is called a mechitza (the "ch" is pronounced like you're hocking a loogie). The mechitza is a divider that separates men from women. At the Kotel the side that accomodates the men is at least twice the size of the space given to women.

In 1989 a group of women formed an organization called Women of the Wall. Since that time they have advocated that women should be allowed to pray on the women's side in non-traditional (non-orthodox) ways. The Haredi (religious) parties in Israel filed suits in the courts to have their practices banned, including trying to pass a law that made it illegal for women to pray audibly at the Kotel. The proposed sentence for violating the law was seven years in prison. The standard sentence for rape in Israel at the time was three years. The law was never passed, but the Women of the Wall were banned from praying there. The reasoning cited was security. Orthodox men were known to act violently toward them. Rather than crack down on the Haredi men (whose political parties hold tremendous power in the Israeli parliament) who were committing the acts of violence, the women, who wanted nothing more than to gather with their sisters and celebrate their love and devotion to their Creator, were told to leave.

I have a hard time with the mechitza. I will not attend services where the men and women are divided (with the exception of a familial celebration such as a bar or bat mitzvah, though I have no orthodox relatives so this has not been an issue thus far). For me I simply cannot accept it. When the Nazis unloaded us off the cattle cars at the concentration camps the first thing they did was divide the men from the women. I'll be damned if I will be separated from the woman I love by anyone, let alone a fellow Jew. I will visit the Kotel. I will place a note in the cracks. But I will not utter one word in prayer as long as the Women of the Wall are banned.

So what of this note that was left by the freshman Senator? It has been a long standing custom among Jews to write prayers or messages to God on pieces of paper and place them in the cracks of the Kotel. They are collected and burned. It is said the smoke carries the prayers to God. It is taboo to speak of their contents. Even those who take notes to the Kotel for others refrain from reading them. With modern technology people from around the world can email messages to the Kotel where they are printed and placed in the cracks. But I would venture to guess that they remain unread. Obviously then the thing for someone like Obama to do would be to leak his message to the press after which a phony drama ensues where someone miraculously finds the note. Nothing he does is based in policy or personal conviction. It is all about perception. Up is down. Down is up. Private prayers are public, but only by miracle. What method can be employed to cleanse that space of his duplicitous act of stagecraft? Perhaps the unceasing flow of time and events surrounding Jerusalem that eclipse all he was or will ever be. He is a nothing. He is a cypher. He is devoid of a center, a biography, a conscience. It would be appropriate that his note be taken from the Kotel and left unburned, as his words are only written and uttered to serve himself.

A legend is told as to how it came to be that God chose Mount Moriah as the place where the Divine Presence would dwell on earth. It concerns two brothers. Both were farmers whose lands were adjacent. One brother lived alone, the other had a wife and family. One day the married brother said, "I have so much; a family, rich fields that produce much grain. My brother though struggles alone. I will ease his burden and give him a portion of my crop so that he will not be so stressed. The other brother had a similar thought. "My brother has many mouths to feed. I am only one person, and though I live a meager life I can spare a portion of my crop to help him feed his family." In the night, unbeknownst to the other, they each carried a sheave of wheat to the other's threshing floor. The next day each went to his own floor to find that the sheave count was the same. Perplexed, they each set out the next night, and the next morning the result was the same. This went on until under the light of the harvest moon they encountered each other on the way to the other's home. When the met they realized what the other had been doing. They embraced in perfect love for each other, and it was there that God decided the Holy of Holies would be built.

With such promise was this thing begun. Now this holy place is a source of trouble, of pain, of woe. And it will remain so until the love that was held between the brothers can be found by all those that consider Jerusalem sacred. Does the man from Illinois have the capacity to spark that love, to render the pain of the past and its prejudices undone? A man who would callously allow his prayer to the Creator of all things to be leaked to the press, a prayer that he most likely did not even write, will never possess the capacity to accomplish a task such as this, though I have no doubt that, in his unmitigated hubris, he believes that he has been appointed by history to accomplish this as yet elusive task. Or, more likely, the thought hasn't even crossed his mind.

2 comments:

CognitiveDissonance said...

Wonderful post, shtuey. I especially loved the story of the 2 brothers. I am also appalled at the self-serving actions of Obama. I'm not Jewish, but I still feel that what he did was defile the West Wall and all its spiritual meaning. But then, Obama is completely empty of any spiritual insight.

Diamond Tiger said...

after this, what lows can he stoop to? I am sorry to say that this does not surprise me.

I also love the story of the brothers....explains why this place is so "charged".

Thanks for teaching me something new today.

Diamond