'War' With Ultra-Orthodox Over Western Wall? Bring It On

Shocking Attacks at Kotel Galvanize Jews Around Pluralism

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By Eric Yoffie

Published May 20, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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My first reaction to the ugly confrontation at the Western Wall on Friday was to be appalled and sickened. Attacks carried out mostly by ultra-Orthodox men, who heckled, shouted, and threw things at approximately 100 members of Women of the Wall attempting to pray at Judaism’s most sacred site, were a chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.

But on reflection, I’ve changed my mind: I welcome the war that the ultra-Orthodox have chosen to launch. As offensive as these actions were, there are multiple reasons to expect that good might emerge from the nastiness of recent days.

First, the 6,000 Haredi girls sent to participate in the demonstration have received an education that is sure to open their eyes to new Jewish possibilities. As Anat Hoffman astutely noted, the spectacle of masses of Haredim screaming their contempt at a small number of tallit-wearing but otherwise traditionally-clad women will move some of these girls to wonder what exactly is the terrible sin these women have committed.

In the past, their elders have sent young boys to the barricades but have usually sheltered young girls; they know that even in the Haredi world, women are not immune to the winds of feminism and change. Therefore, if this is a new Haredi tactic, I am for it.

Second, attacks on Women of the Wall continue to energize American Jews. The story of the recent outrages was the lead in every American Jewish publication, and was also given prominence in the mainstream media.

It may be true that Israelis care little about the Wall, but American Jews care more every day. And no matter how many explanations are offered by Israeli diplomats, Jews in America are horrified at what they see.

Even in the face of civil war in Syria and looming threats from Iran and Hezbollah, American Jewish interest in the Kotel has not waned. The longer the war at the Wall continues, the more American Jewish commitment to religious freedom in Israel grows.


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