Israel, Mishegas, Politics, Religion

Western Wall rabbi not aware of rampant hypocrisy

Dear Almighty, why didn’t You bless Your more literal followers a better Hypocrisy Detector? The statements from Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, overseer of the Western Wall/Kotel plaza area, are making my head spin. Check this:

“My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross…I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church.”

He means the Pope can’t wear a cross while visiting the Kotel. Then he says:

“For the past 42 years, no one has ever been prevented from praying at the Western Wall and, God willing, no one ever will…A solution needs to be reached that provides adequate security for the pope without infringing on the right of everyone to pray. The Western Wall belongs to everyone.”

Um, nooooooo, not quite rabbi-man: Women? Reform or Conservative Jews? The former Palestinian residents of the plaza area? Moshiach wannabes? Filed under “You Can’t Make This S[tuff] Up” and posted here for no reason other than an excuse to slap your forehead.

28 thoughts on “Western Wall rabbi not aware of rampant hypocrisy

  1. Some people are not interested in The Eternal Revolution to challenge every single status quo.
    You mentioned women reform and conservative Jews.
    The sixties are over. You won some battles you lost some. Is it really such a torture for you to realize that somewhere in the universe there is an island of noncomformity to your radical leftist agenda? Leave the rabbi alone.

  2. haha, radical leftist agenda. fm, you make me laugh. because, you know, movements founded in the 19th century, yup, those are straight from the 60s. LOL. thanks for the giggles.

  3. Are Reform and Conservative Jews not permitted at the kotel? Are Muslims not permitted at the kotel? Are moshiach wannabees (???) not permitted at the kotel?
    They’re all permitted at the kotel. Where’s the “hypocrisy” here?

  4. Eric – the Kotel is the exclusive domain of the ultra-Orthodox. On the other hand, I like Yeshiyahu Liebowitz’s position. (BTW, I live a 15 minute walk from the Kotel, yet, while I recognize that privilege, simply am most disgusted than if I was an observer from afar). Try being a woman and wearing a tallit (which, even according to ‘traditional halakha’ is permitted – at the Kotel – imagine the violence. In fact, that happened recently.

  5. Some people are not interested in The Eternal Revolution to challenge every single status quo.
    …while others have challenged the status quo of millennia by putting up a mechitza at the Kotel and designating it as an Orthodox synagogue (yes, during the sixties).

  6. Are Muslims not permitted at the kotel?
    I wonder whether someone known to be Muslim would be permitted there. I was there once, and the security people looked through my bag, and definitely stepped up the search when they saw my Hebrew University Arabic textbook. (Which doesn’t actually make sense: even if you assume (which I don’t) that all Arabs are terrorists, actual Arabs are the least likely people to need an Arabic textbook!)

  7. “the Kotel is the exclusive domain of the ultra-Orthodox.”
    i’ve been to the kotel a few times, i’m definitely not ultra-orthodox.
    look the rabbi is clearly out of line here. does Hashem really care whether the pope wears a cross at the western wall? i’m sure hundreds of people go to the Wall every yeah with a king james bible in their backpack or a cross around the neck.
    What? Is? The? Point?

  8. Reb Barry, I think your letter is spot on. For others, I’ve taken the liberty of pasting it below:

    Sent to Pope Benedict XVI via email:
    Your Holiness,
    I was disturbed to read in the Jerusalem Post this morning that Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch has said you should remove your cross when you visit the Western Wall.
    Like Rabbi Rabinovitch, I am a rabbi. Unlike Rabbi Rabinovitch, I have no problem whatsoever with you wearing a cross or other symbols of your faith and/or office when you visit Judaism’s holiest site. I think it is utterly inappropriate that Rabbi Rabinovitch would even ask you to remove your cross, and I am embarrassed that he did so.
    Rabbi Rabinovitch does not seem to understand that while to some Jews the cross symbolizes centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution, to Christians the cross symbolizes Jesus’ love for mankind and willingness to sacrifice himself. To ask you to remove your cross would be to ask you deny who you are and what you believe, and would be an insult not just to you, but to billions of Christians worldwide.
    In the Jerusalem Post article Rabbi Rabinovitch is quoted as saying “My position is that it is not fitting to enter the Western Wall area with religious symbols, including a cross. I feel the same way about a Jew putting on a tallit and phylacteries and going into a church.” Rabbi Rabinovitch’s comparison is totally inaccurate. Tallit and phylacteries are not part of the usual garb of Jews; these days we only use them when praying, and when I was invited to a prayer service in a church I did wear my tallit, at the request of the priest who was organizing the service. A better comparison is to the yarmulke, the skull cap that observant Jews normally wear. While I remove a hat when entering a church, I do not remove my yarmulke, and I expect Rabbi Rabinovitch would not either. For me the yarmulke is a symbol of who am I, and in particular when I am visiting space that is sacred to another faith I feel more comfortable having that reminder of my own faith on my head. I suspect the same is true for Catholics or others who visit my holy places, that they find the presence of the cross a comforting reminder of their own faith.
    I pray that Rabbi Rabinovitch learns tolerance and sees the error of his hurtful remarks. More than tolerance, may your visit contribute to acceptance of each other. Back in the 18th century, a Christian asked Rabbi Moses Mendolssohn “how can your religion be correct if my religion is correct?” His response was that there is one pasture, but many gates. Or as your scripture puts it, “In my father’s house there are many rooms.” May your visit help people realize that is OK for people to come to God via different gates, to dwell in different rooms, but we are united in a desire to serve our Creator by making the world a better and more peaceful place.
    With blessings of peace,
    Rabbi Barry Leff

  9. A better comparison is to the yarmulke, the skull cap that observant Jews normally wear. While I remove a hat when entering a church, I do not remove my yarmulke,
    Drawing distinctions (from a Jewish angle, rather than a church etiquette angle) between hats and skullcaps is problematic.

  10. Warning: Off-topic pet peeve time, something that irks me so much I had to crosspost it.
    WHY do people ever say “phylacteries”? Does that really clear things up for anybody? Has anybody in the entire history of the English-speaking world said “Wow, thanks, I was lost when you started talking about tefillin, but when you substituted the term ‘phylacteries’ I got such a clear picture in my head”?
    I can just imagine a guy trying to explain tzitzit to someone who just doesn’t get it. “I know,” he thinks, “let’s turn to ever-popular classical Greek to make it more understandable.” So he tries “Anyway, so I was donning my tzitzit, or as you would say, amphedases…”
    Other guy: (still blank)
    “Excuse me, friend, let me try another synonym – my dikrossoi… get it now?”

  11. This whole thing is ridiculous. I think Barry Leff’s letter is absurd because he’s coming from a place that doesn’t even begin to try to understand Rabbi Rabinovich’s position.
    The kotel is not the dominion of the ultra-orthodox. Anyone and everyone could and does go there. Certainly it may be intimidating for women if they want to wear tallitot or tephillin, but it doesn’t approach what some of the posters here are saying.

  12. noah, just a few weeks ago, a hundred women wearing kipot and tzitzit were evicted from the plaza. You can read it in Haaretz or Ynet. A select excerpt from Rabinovich’s statement on that incident:

    “The High Court barred them from acting in a way that is not in line with local custom, and the local custom is that women don’t wear a prayer shawl, put teffilin or read out from the Torah.
    “The Western Wall is open to every woman to pray in her own way, as long as she does not breach the local custom, which is Jewish Halacha. An attempt was made today to create a provocation, desecrate the site and hurt the feelings of men and women worshippers.”

    It’s not intimidating. They were evicted.

  13. Look, I think it’s a terrible thing that the women were shouted at and intimidated out of the plaza.
    On the other hand, while I know they are entitled to the freedom to pray as they see fit, they probably knew this would provoke an intense response. This doesn’t make what happened any more justified. It’s typical, sad jew-on-jew harassment.
    But the thing with the Pope is a different matter. I don’t know what’s so hard to understand about the sensitivities of Jews and the Kotel and what is represents. I have no problem with a rabbi who voices his opposition to the pope in full papal-wear going to the kotel.
    And the comparison with jews in churches is inexplicable. Without touching upon the halakhic position, a jew who goes into a church and wears tallit and tephillin?! That’s incongruous and beyond hypocrisy.

  14. noah-
    “it may be intimidating for women if they want to wear tallitot or tephillin” sounds like morning minyan at some old-school Conservative shuls. The Kotel isn’t even the same league.

  15. Noah, your response that the women “probably knew” what would happen interests me.
    Let’s say that something incomprehensible happens, and for whatever reason, the management of the Kotel is assumed by some bizarrely aggressive Reform Jews time-travelling from the 60’s (let’s assume an unusual group of them, particularly frei). Their own minchagim are now heavily encouraged. When you approach, dudes stand around asking “Would you care to take off your kippah?” and keep pressuring you about it. A sign reads “Please consider rolling up your sleeves.”
    Needless to say, there’s not much laying tefillin.
    One problem – you consider yourself obligated, and you really want to daven at the Kotel. Finally you figure, “They won’t see much of me anyway, they might not like it, but I’ll just try to fulfill my obligation and go.” Besides, they probably think you’re a freak anyway what with the kippah you don’t give to the smiling dudes mentioned above.
    Instead of coldly ignoring you, though, you get interrupted (not halachically okay), harassed and evicted… for something you consider to be a freaking mitzvah at one of the holiest sites in Judaism.
    Awesome, huh?
    Bottom line: your impression of what someone else’s reaction might be should really not govern what mitzvot you observe, at least not at a site which is theoretically for everybody.
    I can only imagine how much MORE this is the case when the women were on one side of a mechitza. These men were taking such an interest why?

  16. I wish that these women at the kotel could pray how they wanted. But think about this practically. There are many at the kotel who will never yield to allowing women to pray there with tallit and tephillin. This is, so to speak, the status quo at the kotel. It is the reality.
    Taking this reality into account, was it wrong for women to go there wanting a fully uplifting spritual experience with tallit and tephillin? Of course not! But would be provocative? Of course.
    Would it have been a ‘lesser’ experience if they didn’t wear tallit and tephillin? Sure, it might have been. But it would have kept things peaceful and it wouldn’t have evoked the hostile response (not that it makes the response any less shameful).
    Yonah: I’m talking in practicalities here. And as a matter of fact, Halakha does often take into account what sort of reactions and responses one’s behavior will lead to, even with regard to mitzvoth (especially when alternatives exist).
    Furthermore, from a purely Halakhic standpoint, there is nothing lesser about women not wearing tallit and tephillin (they are not halakhically obligated).
    And personally, if there was a place I wanted to go to to daven that would not allow me to do it halakhically or would be hostile to me, I simply wouldn’t daven there. As much as I may like to, there are other factors involved.
    Again, the pope thing is an entirely different matter.

  17. Furthermore, from a purely Halakhic standpoint, there is nothing lesser about women not wearing tallit and tephillin (they are not halakhically obligated).
    From a purely Halakhic standpoint, there’s nothing lesser about anyone praying somewhere other than the kotel. Kick them all out!

  18. noah writes:
    Desh–you’re comment has nothing to do with anything I said.
    I think Desh’s point is that your introduction of the frame of halachic obligation is an irrelevant red herring, since nobody (men or women, liberal or Orthodox) is halachically obligated to be there at all.
    I would add further that the women in question may in fact consider themselves to be halachically obligated to wear tallit and tefillin, and so your telling them that they’re not obligated imposes as foreign a religious system as those who say women are forbidden from wearing tallit and tefillin, or Yonah’s hypothetical people who ask you to take off your kipah.
    Finally, if everyone were as conscientious as you suggest about not being somewhere where other people didn’t want them to be (regardless of whether those other people were justified), there would be no Jews in Israel (especially Jerusalem) and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. (Probably there would be no Palestinians either, and it really would be a “land without a people”.)

  19. Late response, but I think it’s interesting that nobody’s brought up the comparison between this and the current Muslim prohibition on Jews praying while on the Temple Mount, which most Jews (except for the ones who think that even going onto the Temple Mount is forbidden) consider patently outrageous.
    The Western Wall, like the Temple Mount, is important to religions other than Judaism, and people who are not Jews should be entitled to pray at the Wall as they please, so long as they do not do so in a way that actively disrupts others who are at prayer there. If the Pope visits the wall, he’ll cause enough of a stir simply because he’s the Pope, but his wearing a cross isn’t inherently disruptive.
    And, as a former half-Catholic, I’d like to point out that wearing tefillim, kippah, and even a tallit into a church would raise some eyebrows but not be considered offensive per se, and nobody would ask someone wearing these to leave. Of course, this is partly because of the asymmetry between Judaism and Christianity – Christians do not see those symbols of Judaism as threatening in any way, or even to be in any direct contradiction to their own beliefs. Early Christians probably wore these too! Plus, since Christianity is a proselytizing religion, they’d probably see a non-Christian’s conspicuous presence as an opportunity, not an imposition, as long as the person was otherwise respectful and nondisruptive. It’s sort of sad that Rabinovitch understands Catholicism so little that he’d even try to make such a formalistic comparison.

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