Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, this blog contains random musings of a journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and occasionally-ranting rabbi, taken from Shabbat-O-Grams, columns, speeches, letters, sermons and thin air. "On One Foot," the column, appears regularly in the New York Jewish Week, as well as a blog for the "Times of Israel."
Mazal tov to our Sisterhood as tomorrow is our long-awaited, snow-delayed annual Sisterhood Shabbat. A special mazal tov to Maureen Leffand, well-deserving recipient of this year's Rose Rosner Memorial Award for her stellar volunteer work. We also wish mazal tov to our 7th grade class, who will be "moving up" at their Aliyah service this Tuesday night, the first night of Shavuot. Cantor Mordecai will also be leading a late night study session on prayer that night and on Wednesday, we'll have lots of kids and family programming, plus a dairy lunch, courtesy of Mia and Lonny Weinstein. Thursday, the second day, will include lunch too, and Yizkor prayers plus the book of Ruth during the service.
Today is Rosh Hodesh Sivan, the new moon falling on this weekend of Mother's Day, as we approach Mount Sinai to receive the Torah once again next week on Shavuot, with many of our students stepping forward to graduate. Can more drama can be poured into so few days?
Some of these celebrations can be combined. Many moms were at the Kotel this morning, where, unfortunately, the Women of the Wall's monthly Rosh Hodesh service was met with massive resistance from Haredim. Read this account and this as well. As you can see, the police did their job - though there was still some violence - in attempting to protect the women, whose rights to pray in that spot with ritual garb were upheld by the Jerusalem courts in a landmark ruling a few weeks ago.
today at the Kotel
On Tuesday night, we had an informative discussion here about pluralism, the Women of the Wall, and the Sharasnky plan, which is still taking shape, and now with a greater sense of urgency. The plan calls for an egalitarian side of the Kotel to be constructed in the area of Robinson's Arch, of equal size to the current Kotel plaza (on the left), with one common entranceway and identical in all respects. All sides gave tentative approval to the plan, though the Women of the Wall still feel they have the right to wear tallit and read Torah in the traditional women's area. The Robinson's Arch area would be for mixed davening (men and women together). As you can see below, the view today is very different from that which our ancestors enjoyed in ancient times. The bottom diagram shows that today's Western Wall is only a small portion of a retaining wall that extended southward beyond Robinson's Arch (the bridge on the right) and northward well into what is now the Muslim Quarter.
If you look at the photos below, you can see that historically, women and men prayed together at the Kotel. The top two are from the early 20th century, and men and women are praying together. It was never treated as a synagogue until after the Six Day War, and even then, if you see the bottom photo of my mother taken in the women's section in 1969 (Happy Mother's Day, Mom), there are some conspicuously male-looking creatures walking behind her. The separation of the sexes was not nearly as extreme as it is today.
Archeologists are very concerned that the Sharansky plan will run roughshod over priceless finds. The area around Robinson's arch is filled with large stones that were thrown into the valley by Roman soldiers in 70 CE when the temple was destroyed. They have remained in place ever since. It's amazing to see and to pray there, as our groups have in recent years (see below).
Like the Western Wall, Israel itself must not become a synagogue. A synagogue by definition has a single ideology and vision (even if that vision is itself inclusiveness, as it is here, it is still restrictive of contrasting visions). Any synagogue has that. A Jewish state cannot espouse one narrow religious philospohy. It needs to be a state for all its inhabitants, including those Jews and non-Jews who do not subscribe to any particular Jewish religious ideology. This is the first Israeli government constructed without Haredim in it. Already there are signs of progress: Women's faces can now be seen on billboards in Jerusalem; school curricula are being changed to better integrate the ultra Orthodox. And Sharansky has a plan. As Shavuot approaches, let us hope that the Torah given to all the Jewish people can now be allowed to nurture each of us in our own way. We were all at Sinai. And now we are all at the Kotel. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Shavuot! Rabbi Joshua Hammerman