Agrees With Freund On WOW
Michael Freund’s May 17 column, “Unholy Hypocrisy at the Western Wall” was right on the money. Women of the Wall (WOW) is a group that thrives on confrontation and seems to take an unseemly delight in aggravating the feelings and sensibilities of Orthodox and traditional Jews.
While I understand the motives of those who organize counterprotests, I agree with Mr. Freund that such actions only serve to raise WOW’s profile while providing the very small group an unbelievable publicity bonanza.
Indeed, as a result of the mass counterprotest at the Kotel, WOW received more international media attention than it ever had in the past, and invariably the Orthodox counterprotesters were portrayed as unreasonable zealots while WOW members were depicted as pious women whose only wish is to pray at the Wall.
Disagrees With Freund On WOW
Michael Freund’s diatribe had no place in the distinguished Jewish Press in the year 2013. It would, though, have fit well in the newspapers of Selma, Alabama of the early 1960s.
According to Freund, the correct approach for the Women of the Wall would be “a separate section… in order to defuse the tensions… without causing strife and confrontation.” Quite right and exactly as advocated by Sheriff Jim Clark of Selma (and many others) as a means of avoiding “strife and confrontation” with uppity African Americans and their demand for equal, not separate, treatment and accommodations.
Separate but equal has never worked and won’t defuse the Kotel tensions except in the short-sighted view of those, like Freund, who support relocation of people who seek equal prayer rights by exploiting seminary girls ordered by “leading rabbis” to block access to a place of prayer and reflection.
It’s a shame Freund wasn’t advising Sheriff Clark back then. We could have avoided the water hoses, cattle prods and clubs by simply ordering seminarians to block the lunch counters thereby avoiding the “unholy” sight of African Americans who sought equal rights.
Dismayed By Column (I)
In his May 17 “The Shmuz” column (“Listen to Your Messages”), Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier writes that upon hearing of the earthquake in Tokyo in 1923, which killed 100,000 Japanese people, the Chofetz Chaim wept and referred to a saying in the Gemara which implies that tragedies occur only to serve as warnings that Jews should repent. In other words, a non-Jew’s life is only worth something when it serves a purpose for a Jew.
We know there are numerous Torah laws hostile to idolaters, whom many Orthodox Jews conflate with monotheistic Christians and Muslims into one entity. But most Jews are now living in Western democracies where we are treated with dignity. It’s not necessarily a question of loving other people but respecting those who respect us. Moreover, how can we bring assimilated Jews closer to Yiddishkeit when we promote teachings that would shock anyone brought up to value people of all races and nationalities?
Dismayed By Column (II)
The Gemara includes statements from sages that are remarkable for their sympathetic attitude to non-Jews as well as statements from other sages that are, to put it mildly, less tolerant and inclusive. (And keep in mind that the non-Jews the sages were familiar with were for the most part idolaters and pagans). So why rabbis like Ben Tzion Shafier feel the need to emphasize the negative as opposed to the positive is something that has long bothered me.
The statement in the Gemara cited by the Chofetz Chaim – a learned and pious Jew but a fallible human being just the same – and repeated approvingly by Rabbi Shafier is one of hundreds upon hundreds of Talmudic aphorisms, stories and interpretations. The views reflected in those aphorisms, stories and interpretations are quite diverse and inspire intense argument and adamant disagreement among the sages themselves, so why has it become a given in many Orthodox circles that literally every word spoken by our sages, even in a non-halachic context, is Divine Truth on a level of Torah m’Sinai?
And it’s not just Rishonim who are accorded this treatment – I know many frum Jews who think it’s kefirah to question anything stated by any prominent (and not so prominent) rosh yeshiva as well as any rabbi who’s written a sefer, no matter how obscure. I thought we Jews don’t believe in infallible religious leaders.