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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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The View From The Beis Medrash

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Women Of The Wall Fail To Receive Desired Attention

For the second time since a recent Israeli court ruling, the controversial group, Women of the Wall (WOW), legally assembled at the world’s holiest place – the Kosel HaMa’aravi – on Rosh Chodesh.

The group insists on praying with talleisim there and performing other activities that halacha and minhagim have consistently prescribed only men to carry out. These actions disturb many individuals who pray at the Kosel and feel that the group is desecrating a holy site. Nonetheless, the court has ruled that the Women of the Wall may pray at the Kosel and perform any actions that it wishes – even though it may be provocative toward others.

This past Sunday, on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, the Kosel Plaza was temporarily closed to the public for the purpose of enabling the WOW to pray undisturbed. A group of women, Women for the Wall (WFW), was recently created as a counter group. Its charter aims to show support for continuing the thousands-of-years-old halachic traditions. This group has also gathered to pray at the Kosel. Just last month the WFW assembled in the early morning hours, filling the women’s section of the Kosel and thereby preventing the WOW from entering the actual Kosel area. Many men also protested against the presence of the WOW, who were escorted under heavy police guard from the Kosel.

The police, by closing the entrances to the Kosel, prohibited many from making their way there to take part in the protest against the WOW. In an apparent move to avoid a repeat of last month’s violence, police decided to limit the number of haredi-dressed men permitted into the Kosel area during the WOW’s appearance. Many expressed opposition to closing the Kosel on Rosh Chodesh in order to accommodate women whose actions they view as provocative. WOW opponents were at least grateful that a Sefer Torah was not permitted to be brought by WOW.

On the political front, Yahadut HaTorah MKs Uri Maklev and Meir Porush filed an urgent query with Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beiteinu). They wanted to know why people were denied access to the Kosel during the event.

The event ended without any major confrontations. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rav of the Kosel, said, “I condemn violence or a demonstration of any kind at the Kosel, and hereby appeal to all parties to do everything in the future to find a solution to the dispute that adds honor to the holy place and the entire people of Israel.”

Last month a small number of haredim acted violently and attacked the women, an action that resulted in negative media reports. This month many rabbanim suggested that if the WOW did not receive attention for their actions, they would not get any media coverage and would eventually go away. As an alternative, the rabbanim urged people to learn and daven.

In the end, only 200-300 women joined the WOW for their service. And there were only a small number of haredim holding signs accusing the women of desecrating the holy site.

The Women of the Wall did not get the attention they sought. We hope that the strategy employed by the rabbanim restores sanctity to the holy Kosel HaMa’aravi.

Manhattan Protest Against Israeli Draft Effort

Thousands of men and boys gathered last Sunday afternoon at Foley Square in Manhattan to protest efforts to draft Israeli haredim into the IDF.

Since its origin Israel has always allowed men to pursue learning Torah and has never required those wishing to remain in yeshiva to join the army. The frum world firmly believes that due to the thousands of men who spend their day learning Torah, Jews in Israel and around the world are protected. Many in the frum world ask if anyone can honestly say that the IDF is militarily stronger than the millions of surrounding Arabs who have been seeking Israel’s destruction since 1948.

Panoramic shot of the protest

Panoramic shot of the protest

The Knesset agreed on legislation last week that sets quotas for the number of haredi men expected to join the military, and raises the possibility of criminal penalties for those who don’t cooperate. This effort seeks to end a status quo that has been in place for 65 years.

The protest, organized by Satmar, featured the participation of Rav Aharon Teitelbaum of Satmar and his brother, Rav Zalman Leib Teitelbaum of Satmar. The two Satmar Rebbes, who rarely join together for an event, put aside their differences to demonstrate the “atrocity” of the Israeli draft effort. Chassidim, including those from kehillos such as Satmar, Skulen, Rachmastrivk and Vizhnitz – whose admorim strongly supported the event – constituted the majority of the participants.

Following Minchah Rav Ohser Kalmanowitz, rosh yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn, led the recital of Tehillim. Rav Yitzchok Glick of the Hisachdus Harabbanim was the program chairman.

Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel

Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel

Speakers at the event included Rav Yaakov Weiss, rosh yeshiva of the Satmar Yeshiva of Kiryas Yoel; Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Zichron Moshe of South Fallsburg; Rav Yaakov Horowitz, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Bais Meir and rav of the Telzer Minyan of Boro Park; Rav Berel Katz, the Dushinsky Rav; Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, rav of Khal Nachlas Yitzchok of Queens; the Galanta Rav; Rav Yaakov Nachman Stauber, menahel of the Satmar Yeshiva of Queens; and Rav Pinchus Jung, menahel of Bais Rochel Girls School in Monsey. Rav Naftoli Herzka Frankel of the Badatz of the Eidah Hachareidis led the recital of Kabbalas Ohl Malchus Shamayim.

Police estimate that as many as 20,000 people participated in the protest.

Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman opposed the protest, believing that it would give negative PR to an effort that has strong implications vis-à-vis Israeli policy.

There was confusion over the opinion of Rav Chaim Kanievsky. A letter was forged in Rav Kanievsky’s name, originally stating that he favored the protest. Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva of Philadelphia and senior member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisrael, had said that the American olam hayeshivos should not participate in Sunday’s protest rally. He said that this was the opinion of Rav Shteinman and Maran Rav Kanievsky. Two of Rav Chaim’s sons, Rav Shlomo Kanievsky and Rav Yitzchok Shaul Kanievsky, released a letter stating their father’s opinion. The letter makes clear that Rav Chaim’s feelings on the matter are that “since Rav Shteinman maintains that protests should not be made regarding this issue, there is no purpose to them. The main focus is to increase limud haTorah, yiras Shamayim and tefillos, and that only through this will all the terrible gezeiros be annulled. The opinion of Rav Chaim is that everything that Rav Shteinman says should be done.” The letter is signed by Rav Shlomo Kanievsky and Rav Yitzchok Shaul Kanievsky. It bears the signature of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, as well, who writes that “all of this is clear and accurate.”

Beis Medrash Govoha, in Lakewood, NJ, and most Litvish yeshivos did not officially attend the rally. In line with Rav Chaim’s advice, Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen, rav of Khal Ateres Yeshaya in Lakewood held a yom limud, with the recital of Tehillim, on Sunday in light of the current gezeiros affecting Jews in Eretz Yisrael.

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