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Women of the Wall pray Photo: Zoom 77
Women of the Wall pray Photo: Zoom 77

Zealotry threatens Western Wall

Op-ed: Liberal, conservative fanatics trying to turn Jerusalem holy site into ideological battleground

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz
Published: 01.01.13, 18:08 / Israel Opinion

Over the past few years, I have been under two simultaneous attacks: The conservative zealous camp is attacking me over the fact that I actively support bringing thousands of students and soldiers to the Western Wall, while the liberal zealous camp criticizes my firm stance against the attempts by members of the Women of the Wall group to undermine the Supreme Court's ruling, which upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallit prayer shawls, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.


Both of these groups ask – in the name of religious tolerance – that I "take their feelings into consideration." One group urges me to avoid bringing non-religious groups to the Kotel, while the other wants me to allow its members to conduct controversial and unusual ceremonies at the holy site. In the name of tolerance, they are asking that I allow them to turn the Western Wall - maybe the only place that still unites all Jews – into an ideological battlefield.

Women of the Wall
Disgrace at Western Wall / Peretz Rodman
Why is it acceptable to treat women attempting to pray with such brutality?
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One of the most insightful stories in the Babylonian Talmud tells of two Jews from Jerusalem – Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Hatred and public humiliation push Bar Kamtza to devise a plan to take his revenge on all of Jerusalem's Jews by telling the Roman Caesar who controls the region that the Jews were rebelling against him. The Talmud describes how the great sages of Israel deal with Bar Kamtza's plot.


Seemingly, the sages were faced with an easy decision, but then a charismatic sage named Zechariah Ben Avkulas enters the picture and warns that any decision they make will be interpreted incorrectly and turn the nation against them. The sages heed his advice and do not take a stand – thus bringing upon Jerusalem the greatest disaster of all.


Rabbi Yochanan said: "The tolerance displayed by Zechariah Ben Avkulas in refusing to have Bar Kamtza put to death destroyed our Temple, burned down our Sanctuary and exiled us from our land."


This is how fanaticism operates. It asks for protection in the name of tolerance, then thrives and flourishes until it becomes too late to stop the devastation it brings on us all.


I'll say it loud and clear: As long as I am the Western Wall's rabbi, fanaticism will not establish a foothold at the site. The Kotel's stones can teach us about the price of zealotry.


Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is the the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy sites



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