Posted on May 15, 2013 by Avi Spodek
The incidents at the Kotel these past few months have dominated the atmosphere where I study. There is an overwhelming sense of support for the Women of the Wall and their efforts to be recognized as legitimate players in the Jewish-religious narrative. Many of my friends have donned their Talitot and Tefilin (some for the first time) and made headlines in the process. I can personally attest to the character and passion of these people and I believe their intentions are sincere.
And yet I struggle.
I struggle because I believe that Jewish history provides us with important lessons for the present. And when I view what is going on at the Kotel plaza it is as if I have been transported to Jerusalem just prior to the destruction of Second Beit HaMikdash (Temple). Both Josephus and the Talmud record a time of great division amongst the Jewish people and both ascribe the ultimate loss of the war with Rome and the destruction of Beit HaMikdash (Temple) to this infighting (Tradition calls it Sinat Chinam (baseless hatred) while Josephus explains it along the lines of “Together We Stand; Divided We Fall”).
In this model it is clear to me that vehement disagreements amongst the Jewish people are unwelcome. So I want my friends to acquiesce for the sake of the greater Good because I worry that the their efforts to change the status quo are simply a repeat of a past mistake that brought about, arguably, Judaism’s greatest heartache.
And yet I struggle.
I struggle because I believe that Jewish history provides us with important lessons for the present. And when I view what is going on at the Kotel plaza it is as if I have been transported to Yavneh during the time of Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabban Gamliel was the Nasi, charged with maintaining Jewish tradition in the wake of the Temple’s destruction. The Talmud tells of an incident where an opposition rose up to depose Rabban Gamliel because he had been using his political position to cower Rabbi Yehoshua into submitting to him in Halakhic decisions, all the while taking every opportunity to publicly humiliate him. The Talmud records that when Rabban Gamliel was removed the gates of the Beit Midrash were thrown wide open. This resulted in an infusion of new ideas so that, “there was no legal decision which had been undecided in the House of Study that they did not resolve.”
In this model it is clear to me that those charged with maintaining Judaism’s traditions cannot abuse that power to disenfranchise other Jews, and that sometimes those who are on the outside of the process have much to provide. So I want my friends to continue their struggle because I believe that their efforts are simply a repeat of a past attempt to correct a wrong, which will result in a more enlightened and unified Judaism.
So I struggle because I am faced with conflicting narratives. And while my friends and their opponents seem to have a very clear idea of where they fit within history’s narrative, I am less certain.