These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

An Egalitarian Minyan in Hebron

Posted on February 20, 2012 by R. Murstein

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Last weekend, I spent a lovely Shabbat in the holy city of Hevron.  What a place!

The four Pardesniks that went were a tour de force of “peace and conflict.”  Personally, I made it my duty to wear a huge smile and say hello to every person I happened across, be they Jew, Arab or European observer.  The laughs were endless!

Perhaps my favorite part of visiting Hevron, as well as the primary reason why it’s so important for Jews to live there, is going to the Cave of the Patriarchs.  It’s such a holy feeling, when you finish davening and you can be blessed through the memories o f the Avot and Immahot.  Not suprisingly, most of the davening that happens in Hevron occurs at Machpelah.  I mean, why daven anywhere else?  A shul in Hevron is about as useless as a shul in the Old City.  And, let me tell you, the davening was pretty sick.  The Kabbalat Shabbat service there was among the best Carlebach services I have ever attended.  Those zealots make the guys at Mizmor L’David seem asleep.  And it was perhaps my proudest moment, before Lecha Dodi, when I assumed the role of honorary snuff guy at the Machpela.  That itself was worth the trip.

I’ll be honest, though.  Hevron isn’t the paradise we make it out to be.  They’ve got a serious problem, and my hope here is to address it and make inroads to solving it.  The problem of which I am speaking, of course, is the lack of egalitarian davening at Machpelah.  Jerusalem has made modest inroads in this regard, with the Masorti Kotel and the courageous Women of the Wall.  At Machpelah, which attracts hundreds of visitors a week, the issue has never been brought up, as far as I am aware.  Like the Kotel, Machpelah belongs to all Jews, not only the Orthodox establishment.  It is an embarassment to the democracy of the State of Israel that one of our holiest sites cannot be religiously pluralistic.

For these reasons, I conceived of the idea for an egalitarian minyan in Hevron, but I can’t do it alone.  I need the help of at least 9 brave Jewish men and women (probably more to ensure attendance) to help me place facts on the ground in the Hevron community and stand up to the coercive pressure of the Orthodox.  I haven’t decided on a name yet, and I’m open to suggestions.  So far, I’ve thought of Conservatives at the Cave, Masorti b’Machpela, or Hevron Shivioni.

Now, at this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Rob, those Hevron people are crazy.  Try starting an egalitarian minyan at Machpelah, and they’ll shoot you.”

That brings me to the secret ingredient to my plan.  What we will need to do to achieve our goals is to balance our religious moderation with a nationalism so strong and violent that the other Hevron residents (including the army and police) will be afraid of us.

How do we do that?

The first move is to establish for ourselves a base of action, our “settlement within a settlement.”  There are plenty of houses in H-2 that are vacant because their “owners” “fled.”  My plan is, through extra-legal means, to occupy and establish residency in those buildings and immediately initiate a wave of violence against the local Arab population.  To describe an analogous situation, think of a new inmate’s first night in maximum-security prison.  It is absolutely vital that, on that first night, he beats someone within an inch of his life so that the more established inmates don’t get any ideas in the shower.  It’s the same idea here.  The Orthodox establishment will a) most likely support us in our campaign of violence, and b) become frightened of us with the extent of our attacks.  All they’ll be able to say is, “They’re a bunch of heretics, but they make us look like Meretz.”

Our new status in the Hevron community, then, will give us a leg to stand on vis-à-vis organizing egalitarian davening at Machpela.  We will start small, with davening on the steps outside of Machpelah like Jews of old used to do (which we could name the Madrega (stairs) Minyan), and, through threats of violence and armed negotiations, we will begin sharing Machpela and having weekly, Shabbat, and holiday services on a rotating basis.

This is a holy mission we are setting out to accomplish here.  We are taking ownership of one of our most sacred sites through the model of religious moderation.  Who’s with me?