Religious life in Jerusalem and Women of the Wall

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I wonder if they keep the other Torah commandments, especially those for women.

CALLING THEMSELVES ‘Women of the Wall,’ they turn up at the beginning of each Jewish month for morning prayers, not to pray quietly alongside other women, but to begin a loud communal service with their own leader chanting the prayers and disturbing the devotion in that relatively small area. (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

CALLING THEMSELVES ‘Women of the Wall,’ they turn up at the beginning of each Jewish month for morning prayers, not to pray quietly alongside other women, but to begin a loud communal service with their own leader chanting the prayers and disturbing the devotion in that relatively small area.

(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

When the world at large thinks of Israel, politics apart, it is Jerusalem that is its focal point. The many sites of this holy Old City are revered, but in some cases their origin and ownership are also disputed. Christians cherish their heritage in this city where Jesus is said to have walked along the Via Dolorosa, carrying the cross on which he was subsequently crucified.

Each Christian denomination has its own place of worship, and I could not ascertain how many there are. Among the very large number of churches there are many that claim a direct connection to the life and death of Jesus.

Best known is the 12th-century Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian quarter of the walled Old City, situated at the end of the Via Dolorosa on the spot where the crucifixion is said to have taken place.

An Eastern Orthodox church that dates from the 12th century is the Church of Mary’s Tomb. It is lit by hanging oil lanterns.

The Russian Church of Maria Magdalene was dedicated to the Russian czar in 1888. A marble sarcophagus contains the remains of the wife of Grand Duke Sergei, Elizabeth Fyodorovna, who was killed by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution.

The newest is the neo-Byzantine Roman Catholic church, also known as Basilica of the Agony at Gethsemane, at the place where Jesus was brought after having his last supper with his 12 apostles on Mount Zion. It stands, at the foot of Mount Olives, where it was built in 1924 on the ruins of two older churches.
The Muslim faith, the youngest of the three monotheistic religions, which dates to the sixth century, also claims a strong connection to Jerusalem, particularly to what is rightfully the Jewish site on which both temples stood, known as the Temple Mount.

There is one mosque and one Muslim shrine there. Al-Aqsa Mosque was built in the eighth century near the place of the Jewish temples, and the Dome of the Rock was built at the other end of the holy mountain some time during the seventh century. It was erected over the rock which was, according to calculations, the altar on which the Akeida (the binding of Isaac) took place, where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac as instructed by God. Therefore, the rock is a historic and holy site for Jews.

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Unfortunately, subsequent historic events with consequences that reach to this very day are preventing the State of Israel from having complete control over the Temple Mount, which is administered and funded by the Wakf Islamic religious trust. It includes the mosques, archaeological sites, museums and schools.

Only the access for Jews to the Temple Mount is controlled by Israel. On the Temple Mount, the conduct of Jewish visitors is strictly observed by the Wakf. Any hint of prayer by Jews, even movement of lips is prohibited and a cause for expulsion from this, the holiest Jewish site. That is the situation today.

During the 1967 Six Day War, the Israeli Army re-entered Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. We heard the commander of the brigade, Gen. Mordechai Gur call out the famous words “Har HaBayit be’yadeinu,” “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

Unfortunately, just a few hours after IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the shofar and gave the sheheheyanu blessing, Gen. Moshe Dayan, who was defense minister at the time, made it his first act to remove the Israeli flag that the paratroopers had raised on the mount, relinquished control of the holiest Jewish site, and handed it back to the defeated Jordanians to administer.

It was in my view the greatest act of Jewish treason in modern times, outweighing all his previous achievements and deserving the cancellation of any military honors as well as a dishonorable discharge from the IDF, instead of any commemoration of his life.

Some unconfirmed reports stated that Dayan also wanted to hand control of the Western Wall to the Wakf, but there seemed to have been strong voices against that.

UNTIL WE again take control of the Temple Mount, the holiest site in our possession is the Western Wall that supports the Temple Mount.

In charge of everything there is Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who keeps a halachically (according to Jewish law) tight reign. It is expected to observe the decorum that becomes this holy place. Men have their section and women pray in theirs.

For anyone who would like to have an event at the Wall with participation of mixed sexes, or in contravention of religious tradition or dignity, there is a special area of the Wall a little further to the south used regularly by the not strictly observant and by visitors from abroad who wish to celebrate a family occasion by the Wall.

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There are also women who collectively wish to conduct their own brand of service in the format used by men. Though frowned upon by the ultra-Orthodox, there is in principle no objection if the service is held somewhere by themselves.

But one group of women with an apparently militant feminist agenda are determined to change the status quo at the Western Wall. Calling themselves Women of the Wall, or WOW, they turn up there at the beginning of each Jewish month for morning prayers, but not to pray quietly alongside other women, regular daily attenders deep in thought, but to begin a loud communal service with their own leader chanting the prayers and disturbing the devotion in that relatively small area. They arrive in the prayer outfits prescribed for men, clad in tallitot, the traditional prayer shawls and wearing tefillin, phylacteries, on their head and arms, making a mockery of the service.

More than that, against Western Wall regulations, they covertly bring their own Torah scroll, and at the usual place during a service, among all other quietly praying women worshipers, start the long routine of loudly reading from it.

When asked by other women to desist from their practice, a loud confrontation begins, bringing the Wall’s security guards in an attempt to quell the disturbance and the number of people hurling insults at those women escalates.

That has been the routine every month for the past few years. Now the powers at the Wall have had to resort to searching the known individuals in an effort to prevent them from bringing religious items other than prayer books.

Despite the fact that there is a perfectly suitable area further to the south where they can conduct their services unhindered, WOW insists on changing the rules at the Western Wall to satisfy their feminist ambitions.

WOW director Yochi Rappeport penned an article that was published recently in The Jerusalem Post, titled “Rabbis, security guards – we forgive you.” The acidity of that piece almost burned a hole in the page. So far, so good; but if ever I read intended cynicism, Rappeport left no doubt. She writes, “We have entered the season of teshuva, repentance, a time to engage in repair for all we’ve done wrong this past year.”

But then, under the pretext of forgiveness, she accuses everyone who has any connection with the Western Wall or who has ever criticized the offensive behavior of WOW, calling them those “who have caused us heartache and pain.” Everyone did wrong, except them, she claims.

She accuses Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef of inciting against them because he called them “stupid women.” She rebukes Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz of the Western Wall for ignoring their requests to hold what she called “respectable services with a Torah scroll.” She complains that the security guards of the Western Wall complex did their job to maintain the rules and ordinances of our holy place. She even turned political by accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being weak against Orthodox Judaism and neglecting relations with world Jewry, and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz of not keeping his promise to nurture pluralistic Jewry in Israel.

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While trying to lecture us about our conduct in preparation for the High Holy Days, she has the chutzpa to vent her unfounded grievances and accusations against those who daily keep to the commandments of the Torah, and not just on selected days to make their feminist points.

I wonder if they keep the other Torah commandments, especially those for women.

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