Israel Palestine Infos
May 18, 2013
Women of the Wall
THERE WAS this Israeli man who from time to time put a slip of paper in the cracks between the stones of the Western Wall, asking God for favors - as Jews have been doing for centuries. They believe that the gates of heaven are located directly above the Wall, making it easy for their missives to arrive quickly.
ThHe man always wondered what all the other petitioners were requesting from the Almighty. One night his curiosity got the better of him. In the wee hours of the morning he stole to the Wall, extracted all the pieces of paper and checked them. All of them were stamped “Request Denied”.
This joke is typical for the attitude of a great many Israelis towards the edifice that every few months or so sets off a political and religious pandemonium.
NOW IT is happening again. A group of feminist Jewish women (mostly of American origin, of course) insists on praying at the Wall clad in praying shawls (talith) and wearing phylacteries (tefillin). They are physically attacked by the orthodox, the police have to restrain them, the Knesset and the courts intervene.
Why? According to Jewish religious law, women are not allowed to wear praying shawls, and certainly not phylacteries, which orthodox men put on their brow and forearm. They are not allowed to mingle with men at the holiest place of Judaism.
The part of the Wall set aside for prayer is about
It seems that most religions are obsessed with sex. They assume that if a religious male sees a woman, whatever her age and looks, he is aroused and cannot think about anything else. So, logically, women must be hidden away.
The “Women of the Wall”, many of whom are not religious at all, want to break the taboo by provocation. So there you are.
TWO YEARS before the birth of
To get to the place, you had to pass through a maze of narrow Arab alleys. In the end you found yourself in a narrow enclave, about three meters wide. To your left was the Wall – an awe-inspiring monumental structure, consisting of huge rocks. To see the top you had to lean back and look towards heaven.
On your other side was a much lower wall, behind which the ancient, poverty stricken Mugrabi (Maghribi, Moroccan) Quarter was lodged.
Very few people know – or care to know – that this enclosure did not come into being by accident. In 1516 Jerusalem was conquered by the rising world power, the Ottoman Empire, which was at the time one of the most modern and progressive states. Soon after, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent built the – well, magnificent – wall of Jerusalem, as it stands today, a hugely expensive work which testifies to the immense devotion of the Ottoman Turks to this remote town in their realm. Suleiman’s chief architect was Sinan, who also designed the Damascus Gate, which many people (including myself) consider the most beautiful structure in the entire country.
The benevolent Sultan instructed Sinan to set aside a special place of worship
for the Jews in the town, so the architect created this enclosure at the Western
Wall (not to be confused with the city wall).
To make the wall more towering, he lowered the floor of the alley and put
up the parallel low wall cutting it off from the surroundings. (Anyone
interested in this history would be well advised to read the book “
Legend has it that when the city wall, with all its 34 towers and seven gates, was finished in 1541, the Sultan was so overcome by its beauty the he had the architect killed. He did not want him to build anything else to compete with it.
UNTIL THEN, the Western Wall was not the main praying place for Jews.
Pilgrims from all over the world came to Jerusalem and prayed at the top of the
Mount of Olives, overlooking the
Since then, the Western Wall remains the holiest place in the world for the Jews, a place where multitudes assemble on holy days, army units swear allegiance to the State of Israel, rich Jews from all over the world bring their sons for Bar Mitzva and the Women of the Wall are kicking up the latest ruckus.
But basically there is nothing holy about the Wall. It was built by King Herod,
a great builder and bloody monster, who was not even a real Jew. He belonged to
the people of
Contrary to common belief, it was not a part of the
WHEN THE Israeli army conquered
I happened to be in the
On the site of the destroyed quarter, a huge empty space was created. This is now the Western Wall piazza, resembling a huge parking lot, which attracts tourists and prayer-shawl-wearing women. It faces the Western Wall, which has completely lost its awe-inspiring character and now looks like just another large wall.
The late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, an orthodox Jew, called it the Diskotel (kotel means wall). He was full of praise for the Wahhabis, a fundamentalist Sunni sect which, upon conquering Mecca, immediately destroyed the tomb of the prophet Muhammad, claiming that revering stones as holy places was nothing but idolatry. They would surely have condemned the Western Wall rabbis as rabid pagans.
In the Jewish myth, the burial site of Moses is unknown, so it could not become a site for adulation.
It must be mentioned to Kollek’s credit that he prevented another outrage. After
the destruction of the Mugrabi Quarter, David Ben-Gurion, by that time a simple
member of the Knesset, demanded that the entire
MANY ISRAELIS believe that the Western Wall should be declared a secular
national monument, irrespective of its religious connotations. But the State of
Lately, Nathan Sharansky has proposed a compromise: clear an additional space
near the wall and allow everybody – man or woman, with or without prayer shawl,
and presumably straight or gay or Lesbian – to pray there. The Egg of
(Sharansky, the former much admired rebel against the KGB in the Soviet Union and later a failed politician in Israel, has been secured a sinecure as chief of the Jewish Agency, an anachronistic institution mainly occupied with raising money for the settlers.)
The rabbis may accept the compromise or they may not. The women may be allowed
to pray without risking arrest or not. But the real question is why the state
gave complete control over this place, that is so important to so many people,
to the orthodox rabbis. After all, they represent a minority in
The answer may be political, but it touches upon a far more important aspect: the lack of separation between state and religion.
This situation is being justified – even by atheist Israelis – by the argument
Under state doctrine,
Anyone wanting to turn
We can only hope that sometime in the future they will fulfill this mission.