On the morning of March 28, the first day of the Jewish month of Nisan, the Women of the Wall will once again gather at the Western Wall for a women-led Rosh Chodesh (new month) service. Once there, the women will likely face an charedi Jewish mob intent on suppressing, or at the very least making as unpleasant as possible, their religious expression.
Previous protests have included sending thousands of charedi schoolgirls to crowd the women’s section of the Wall, cacophonous disruption, and even physical violence. In instigating this mayhem, the charedi Jews have created a situation in which everyone, themselves included, are at loss. By violently disrupting the religious services of fellow Jews at the Western Wall, they reject an opportunity to pursue their own religious ambitions and, consequently, validate their lifestyle and creed.
A dedication to piety in the hopes of achieving G-d’s favor and ultimately the coming of the Messiah is the hallmark of charedi Jews’ religious beliefs and observances. These values are instilled early in childhood and continue to direct every aspect of their lives, from dining to marriage, throughout adulthood. The charedim are fervent in their religious practice, careful to complete every positive deed opportune to them with precision, dedication and sometimes personal sacrifice. At the crux of this lifestyle is a yearning for true closeness to G-d, a spiritual connection obtained most easily through the presence of a Temple.
Lacking a Temple in the present day, the manner in which the charedim behave at the Western Wall itself — on days that are not Rosh Chodesh — further illustrates their religious philosophy. They frequent the site with children in tow, sweating through layers of clothing in the blistering heat, and sit before the Wall with prayerbooks in hand, quietly reciting psalms and prayers with a clear urgency. One might see them pressing their prayerbooks to their faces with their eyes closed, some in tears, in order to summon enough concentration; the spiritual experience of praying for redemption, among other things, at the very site at which it will appear can be an overwhelming one. Yet their lifestyle modeled to yield a closeness to G-d and the coming of the Messiah — one that regularly and heavily includes these mannerisms— is undermined by their vehement contempt for the Women of the Wall.
The charedim claim to be working towards the creation of a third Temple, but they disregard what must change in Jewish society in order for that Messianic age to begin. The last Temple was destroyed, the Talmud explicitly states, because of hatred from one Jew towards another. G-d was so angered by strife within the Jewish nation that He punished them by confiscating His imminent Presence from their lives, which had manifested in an active Temple. Surely they realize this; many charedi men in Israel spend most of their time studying Talmud. Yet, whether deliberately or otherwise, they ignore the principle.
In this sense it is these charedi Jews, rather than the Women of the Wall, who are breaking tradition. Embedded in Jewish theology is the concept of Jewish unity. In light of this value, while the Women of the Wall’s interpretations of proper modes of women’s prayer certainly differ from that of the charedi community, the inconsistency is no justification for a literally violent challenge of their beliefs.
Instead of adhering to a tradition of an all-encompassing Jewish brotherhood for the sake of G-d’s Will and favor, the charedim abandon that which they learn in order to persecute fellow Jews — Jews who are likewise dedicated to frequent religious practice — because of their own personal contempt. Orthodox protestors are living in a paradox of piety and undermining the very beliefs they purportedly espouse.
The presence of the Women of the Wall — at the very place of the Temple’s destruction, no less — is a chance for charedi Jews to prove that the conflict that destroyed their ancestors’ convenient connection to G-d, a connection they so badly crave, is obsolete. If they are crying into their books of Psalms in an effort to bring about the Messiah but refuse to look up at the opportunity to be welcoming towards other Jews as a more effective means of inspiring a Messianic age — or indeed if they neglect to turn their eyes unto themselves — they are merely using Jewish piety as a veneer for xenophobia and hatred. They are creating a Judaism wholly different from the one idealized in the Talmud they spend so many hours studying. They are signaling to the world their true intentions in disrupting the Women of the Wall, but they are also denying themselves the thing they yearn for most in the world: redemption.
This story "How Ultra-Orthodox Jews Undermine Judaism At The Western Wall" was written by Brocha Shanes.