“The Kotel is not a Haredi synagogue”

That’s what some Israeli women think. But the State of Israel seems to think otherwise.

Too bad I can’t get over my emotional attachment to Israel; if I could, it wouldn’t bother me to read about Israeli women being arrested for praying at the Western Wall.

The Israeli Government, which depends on religious fanatics for its majority, is in a tough bind on issues such as this one. But what’s the excuse for the silence from American supporters of Israel? If Netanyahu could tell the Shas “We can’t do this kind of crap and still get support from the diaspora,” that would strengthen his hand. But he can’t say that convincingly, because it isn’t true.

Can you imagine the outcry if the Iranian Government had arrested a group of Jewish women for daring to pray?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

14 thoughts on ““The Kotel is not a Haredi synagogue””

  1. I think your last sentence is non-parallel. OF COURSE nobody would remark on the Iranian "government" doing anything to a group of Jewish women; instead, I think you meant "if the Iranian Government had arrested a group of Muslim women (particularly non-Shiites) for daring to pray". And I still don't think anyone would be very surprised…

  2. The Kotel is a haredi synagogue, in the same way that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a Catholic/Orthodox church. If a group of Unitarians, Mormons, or even Episcopalians showed up at the CotHS and tried to hold their own service there, they would get the same reaction.

  3. Seth, it's interesting that you think so, but I don't know that your thinking makes it so. The Kotel is a powerful symbol – and not even purely a religious symbol, but also a secular national one – for every Jew, and neither it nor Jewishness more broadly is the exclusive property of the Haredim, nor should they be empowered to dictate the terms of its use or of other aspects of other peoples' Jewishness.

    Now, that's my philosophical position. I don't know what the legal arrangements are, but if they are in concordance with your comment then I think they should be changed. Of course, I also think it's offensive that Israel does not permit secular marriage, and requires all Jewish marriages to conform to absurdly antiquated laws such as those barring Cohenim from marrying divorcees, another imposition of the Haredi viewpoint on other Jews' freedom, and to my mind one that should be a higher (but linked) priority.

  4. "Too bad I can't get over my emotional attachment to Israel"

    Don't worry, Mark. A little bit more nice Jewish Talibanism, you too will get over it. It happened to me about a decade ago.

  5. Obviously the Western Wall is extremely potent as a religious/national symbol for all Jews, but in terms of the day-to-day management of the place, it wouldn't be feasible to run it as a commons where anyone can have any kind of Jewish religious service they want. There has to be some kind of management, and given the balance of power in the Israeli political system, that management is bound to be haredi. If you frame the problem as “getting our kind of worship to happen at the Western Wall” then you’ve already stacked the deck heavily against yourself. Perhaps the Archeological Gardens around the Southern Wall should be developed as a site for non-haredi forms of Jewish worship.

  6. it wouldn’t be feasible to run it as a commons where anyone can have any kind of Jewish religious service they want.

    Why not? And why not at least consider such obvious solutions as a trichitza to allow for mixed praying?

  7. Larry,

    You don't know your haredi, if you think that a trichitza would work. I remember being in Tokyo in the mid-'90s, where the only synagogue in town used a trichitza to accommodate everybody. (The term hadn't yet been invented, AFAIK, but that was the seating arrangement.)

    It worked fine for the Modern Orthodox and points left, but since the haredi had a minyan of their own, they prayed downstairs. Compromise is not their thang.

  8. A trichitza combined with stringent law enforcement (i.e, arresting anyone who caused a disturbance in any of the 3 sections) should work, I think. The question is how long would the riots continue and how many casualties are worth the price. I think Israel needs more people who hold strong views on allowing religious freedom (regardless of whether they are personally religious themselves) before this can actually be implemented. Currently the electoral cost would be too high.

  9. Larry: Obviously there are various accommodations that a more liberal-minded Kotel administration could make, and which the current administration doesn't want to make. My point is that there has to be some administration; otherwise, disputes over what behavior is or is not appropriate at the Kotel will lead to even more rioting than there is now, either from differences related to feminism or differences related to how loudly the chazzan can sing or differences related to two massive bar-mitzvah parties showing up on the same morning. And as long as mainstream Israeli parties have to appease the haredim in order to form a government, that administration is going to stay in haredi hands. The collapse of the Shinui party suggests to me that even though most secular Israelis don't like the haredim, they're not very interested in using the political system to seize what the haredim consider to be their turf.

  10. Seth: "…the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a Catholic/Orthodox church." It's more than that: the Copts and Armenians also have pieces and the Ethiopians share the roof. The front-door key has been kept since Saladin's time by two Muslim families. The frequent clashes don't seem as yet to involve women, since all the Christian denominations inviolved are equally mysogynist.

  11. When I visited, the Kotel didn't speak to me, move me, at all. In fact, watching people pray to a wall of stone struck me as nothing more than idolatry and I was surprised to find myself repulsed by the sight. That's not how I experience my Judaism, praying to an object. So, so much for it being a potent symbol for this Jew.

    Perhaps this is a little off topic, but I can't help but think that American Judaism has paid a terrible opportunity cost in centering on Israel. Instead of futher developing practices and philosophies that reflect and embody the American Jewish experience, instead of finding new, more meaningful ways to inspire and deepen the spiritual life of American Jews, all we've done is turn the organized community into one big auxillary group to support Israel. It's the relationship of a PTA to a school — the school can exist without the PTA, but the PTA can't exist without the school. In this analogy, the organized community in this country is the PTA.

  12. I feel pretty sure that most Jews would say they pray at the wall, not to the wall. Different preposition, different meaning.

  13. Ohio Mom: I love the PTA analogy. I would add that the American Jewish attitude towards Israel is one instance of a general weakness in the American Jewish community (I don't know if this is true in other countries), in which we delegate other people to be more Jewish than us. Another instance of this weakness is our tendency to support religious institutions more right-wing than ourselves, out of some sentimental feeling that the guys in black hats and long coats are more authentically Jewish than we are, even if we couldn't stand to live like they do.

    The condominium-with-occasional-riots arrangement at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is warped from almost every point of view, except for the one that matters most for the government. If the State of Israel were a Christian theocracy, then its policymakers would impose their own version of Christianity on how things were run at the Sepulchre. Precisely because the policymakers don’t give a damn which version of Christianity is the True Faith, they are content to let the status quo continue (this is the place where I should quote Hayek, right?) rather than risk even more riots by imposing a more rational arrangement.

    With the Kotel, things are more complicated, because of course some Israeli policymakers do care which version of Judaism is the True Faith. But this goes back to Mark’s original point about the government depending on religious fanatics.

  14. The trichitza idea might apply elsewhere, but in this case Haredi men are attacking women for how they pray in the women's section.

    Inexcusable, but they know G-d's will so not only can they engage in any fanatic behavior they like, but indeed they think it a mitvah.

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