15 May 2013

"Let's Build No House!"

Women of the Wall should reject Natan Sharansky's offer to create an egalitarian prayer section in the excavations of the Kotel plaza known as "Robinson's Arch."  One of the most vitally important sites in all of Jerusalem, the excavations around Robinson's Arch (named for the British archaeologist who identified its significance in the early 19th century) the area remains a bastion of knowable science and ancient history at the base of a broader neighborhood weighted down and at more times than is necessary, is often intoxicated on the ephemeral ascents of Jewish, Christian and Muslim spirituality.

The knotted rope of triumphalist spiritual aspiration, which Temple Mount Jews seek to climb and build a Third Temple while Dome of the Rock Muslims pelt them with stones so that their God can rule forever, is a hanging rope of messianic insanity.

I believe in the God of history.

That is to stay, I'm naturally skeptical about what people tell me their faith tells them without weighing it against what we know by what we see, hold and touch.  Like an archaeological site.  Which is made up, in toto, of several faiths throughout the walled Old City, whose prayers too often clang in dissonant collision while historians with voracious appetites for provable evidence try to figure out what actually went on there, way back when.

As Nir Hasson ably points out in Haaretz, Robinson's Arch is simply too valuable a piece of history to hand it over for the sake of political compromise with the triumphalist and overly territorial rabbis of the Kotel Plaza.  The brave paratroopers who recaptured Jerusalem from the Jordanians in the Six Day War didn't stand at the Western Wall in order to bequeath to a leadership that would silence the spiritual aspirations of nearly 80% of the Jewish people.   Zionism, lest we forget, was meant to liberate us internally from such "orthodoxies" of faith and observance.

Gershom Scholem pointed out a generation ago that even prior to Zionism, the "Emancipation" of European Jewry into civil life necessitated a new paradigm--heterodoxies--of Jewish civilizational expression.  The denominations of Jewish spiritual life; Jewish cultural and political movements; and Zionism, of course, comprise the most obvious examples of such a vibrant and healthy diversifying of Jews.

One such way of being Jewish is organizing ones world view along an historical paradigm.  To be sure, one can still be a believer, be observant.  I count myself in that camp.  But one's feet walk on historical ground and one appreciates the balance among forces that are provable and knowable as well as unprovable and unknown.

To mar a site of profound historical and archaeological value in order to create yet another space for prayer seems an expediency whose only victory is in the short-term.

Rather, Women of the Wall, whose critical and heroic fight for civil spiritual rights in the Jewish state has the potential to galvanize the nation toward a new stage of spiritual growth, ought to dig in and demand of the government a simple division of the existing Kotel Plaza into three sections--men, women and egalitarian (or mixed.)  Further, it will, in time, plant the first step toward the reading of Torah and wearing of tallit and tefilin in the women's section if that is what a woman chooses to do in order to pray to her God.  A man who dares to tell her she cannot pray as she sees fit is free to pray in the men's section.

There's room enough now for prayer.  We need only make room.  And get on with the work of doing what it is our prayers demand of us:  to feed, to clothe, to make justice and peace.

Yehuda Amichai, one of my favorite Jerusalemites, perhaps said it best:  "So come, let's build no house and pave no road!  Let's make a house folded up in the heart and road rolled up in a coil in the soul, inside, and we shall not die forever."

Let's learn about the old roads before we build new ones.  And where the men need to make room for the women, let's use the power of the state as it was intended to be used by Zionism's founders--to liberate us not only from others but from ourselves.

1 comment:

Rabbi Jeffrey Falick said...

First of all, I very much appreciate your rejection of the creation of yet another prayer area at the Wall. The proposed solution is a natural outgrowth of a contemporary religious dilemma. Our traditions teach us one thing while reality reveals something very different.

So in the end who really cares about trying to understand the real history of the Jews (or Muslims or Christians) when it gets in the way of theistic triumphalism? Especially when the special magic of the legends (and the places) is so much more "spiritually" fulfilling. Instead of learning from these sites and preserving them for what they tell us about the human experience, we have religious zealots of all kinds (and I include both the Women of the Wall and their Haredi oppressors) espousing "truths" so mighty and formidable that they require access to the "holiest" sites in order to validate for all the world their interpretations of God. (Just to be clear: I believe that the Women of the Wall have a right to pray anywhere they want including to those mute stones.)

My idea of a better future is a time when humanity casts off all these superstitions and transforms these sites into places that celebrate the human spirit of seeking knowledge while learning from the past.