It is not clear to me what exactly happened on the night of Tisha B’Av at ‘Ezrat Yisrael’, the area set aside at the Western Walll for mixed gender services . Therefore, without blaming either side, I will deal with what ideally should be the situation, in order to increase peace among all Jews, and so that all of Israel be as closely connected to Har Ha-Bayit (the Temple Mount) as possible.
Since there are many Jews who identify with the Conservative and Reform movements, and according to their guiding values have arranged for themselves mixed-gender prayers in a style and with rules inconsistent to halakha and the minhagim (religious customs) of Israel, and want to pray at the Kotel as they wish, it is appropriate that in the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section, they should be able to hold their prayers with due respect. Moreover, if the number of people who come to pray under their leadership increases, the “Ezrat Yisrael” section should be enlarged and expanded for them as needed.
Members of the religious community who observe halakha and minhag should not lament that members of these movements come to the Kotel, rather, rejoice that more Jewish brethren are connected to the place of the Temple and wish to pray to our heavenly Father, and look favorably on the fact that although we disagree with their changes in halakha, we know how to respect and appreciate all their positive aspects. ‘Gadol Kiddush Hashem me’Chillul Hashem’ (sanctification of God is greater than the desecration of God).
It is appropriate that the rabbi of the Kotel respect all Jews, and when a group of Conservative or Reform Jews wants to come and pray, receive them at the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section with a welcoming greeting. In addition, although the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section is not subject to his halakhic mandate like that of a Beit Knesset (synagogue), he should also care for it with utmost respect.
In other words, even though he would not pray with them because of his observance of halakha, he should be very happy when they come to pray at the Kotel, and encourage them to visit the Kotel regularly, and in as large groups as possible. He should even instruct the ushers to assist them in every way possible, so that they may pray in the most pleasant way to the Lord our God and the God of our fathers. Moreover, if they need a Torah scroll, he should look after it with utmost dignity.
While doing so, with tact and wisdom, he should try to calm the people who wish to quarrel, so that they concentrate on their prayers out of Ahavat Yisrael (love for fellow Jews). He should direct the women who want to read the Torah on Rosh Chodesh to the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’, and take care of all their needs with respect. In addition, if there is concern that certain Jews attempt to seize the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ while Conservative or Reform Jews wish to pray, he should take care to direct them to other places at the Kotel, so that all Jews can feel like God’s beloved sons at the Western Wall.
The City that Makes all of Israel Friends
Peace must be maintained between all Jews, especially near Har Ha-Bayit (the Temple Mount), and for this purpose, our Sages instructed to be lenient in halakhot and takanot (decrees). Throughout the year, our Sages determined that the physical touch of amei ha-aretz (lit., ‘the peoples of the land’, or the uneducated) rendered things impure, because among them, some were not meticulous in the observance of the laws of tumah (ritual impurity) and tahara (ritual purity).
However, in order not to create a barrier between the olim le-regel (pilgrims fulfilling the commandment of going to the Temple on the Festivals), our Sages instructed to rely on amei ha-aretz who made the pilgrimage, that anyone who says he is tahor is trusted, and the flesh of the sacrifices and other foods he touched is not rendered tameh. Our Sages based their words on the verse: “So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one” (Judges 20:11) – i.e., when all are gathered together, they all have the status of chaverim who are deemed credible with regard to tahara (Chagiga 26a). It is also said: “Jerusalem built up, a city knit together” (Psalms 122: 3) – it makes all Israel chaverim (Jerusalem Talmud Chagigah 3: 6).
A Temporary Protest and Dispute
Q: But Rabbi, the Reform and Conservatives have changed and abandoned the halakha! They and their corrupt views should be fought, and not given a foothold, in order to eliminate them from the world!
A: Indeed, sometimes when an undesirable phenomenon arises it is dealt with in a severe manner in an attempt to eliminate it. However, when one realizes that protest and ostracism is to no avail, we must return to the foundations of Achdut Yisrael (the unity of Israel). This was the case regarding amei ha-aretz, many of whom were very hostile to Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars), and as Rabbi Akiva testified of himself: ” When I was an ignoramus, I said: Who will give me a Torah scholar so that I will bite him like a donkey? His students said to him: Master, say that you would bite him like a dog! He said to them: I specifically used that wording, as this one, a donkey, bites and breaks bones, and that one, a dog, bites but does not break bones” (Pesachim 49b). So clearly and distinctly!
Consequently, our Sages decreed not to include amei ha-aretz in a zimun. Later, however, in the days of the Rishonim, an order was issued to include them in a zimun, the reasoning being that since the sharp protest did not help bring them back to repentance, it was better not to push them away and create excessive animosity (Tosefot; SA, OC 1999:3; Peninei Halakha: Berachot 5:8). This is based on the words of Rabbi Yossi (Chagigah 22b) who instructed to be lenient and trust the amei ha-aretz regarding the purity of wine and oil all year round, for if they do not trust them “each and every individual would go off and build a private altar for himself, and burn a red heifer for himself.”
Thus, in the first stage when it seemed possible to annul the Reform movement, the controversy was understandable. However, after various “altars” have unfortunately already been created, and we have learned that the wars were of no avail, the dispute should not be furthered, and the schism in Israel deepened and widened – especially not in Jerusalem, our holy city, which makes all of Israel chaverim.
It is worth adding that, unfortunately, some Diaspora Jews belonging to the Liberal, Conservative and Reform movements, as well as the extremist Haredi camp, have become so alienated from their roots and the State of Israel that they became its enemies, and they boycott the State of Israel and the Kotel. Therefore, when members of the Conservative and Reform movements come to the Kotel to pray, it is worthy to congratulate them for this, receive them amicably, and hope that their position will become stronger among their peers.
Beit Knesset (Synagogue)
Q: After all, Rabbi, the Kotel is a Beit Knesset! How can one behave in a Beit Knesset not according to halakha?
A: For that reason, allocating the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section for this purpose is an appropriate solution. On the one hand, it gives an honorable place to all Jews near the Kotel, but on the other hand, since it is not in the ancient plaza that has a chazaka (presumption) of being a Beit Knesset, it does not violate the customary halakhic practice of a Beit Knesset.
Memories from the Breslau Community
My grandfather, the illustrious educator, Prof. Yosef Volk z”l, wrote in his book (‘K’yom Etmol’, p. 69) an entry about the Jewish community in Breslau where he was born and raised. It was the third largest community in Germany, and distinguished itself by maintaining unity among Jews of all streams and opinions. He wrote:
“This unity was achieved despite (or perhaps, because of) the fierce struggle that took place in the Breslau community in the middle of the 19th century, between the representative of strict Orthodoxy, Rabbi Shlomo Tiktin (1791-1843), and Avraham Geiger (1810-1874), one of the leaders of the Reform movement, which deviated greatly from halakha.”
“After Rabbi Tiktin passed away, a compromise was reached between the two streams by creating two unions with equal rights, which had exclusive authority over the religious life patterns of their members. Also contributing to resolving the conflict were the two rabbis, Rabbi Shlomo Tiktin’s son and heir, Rabbi Gedaliah Tiktin (served as rabbi from 1843 until 1886), and Emanuel Joel, Geiger’s successor (served from 1863 until 1890), who knew how to overcome the storms of controversy. From then until the last days of the community, the rabbis of the two streams maintained a normal, and sometimes, even friendly personal relationship.”
“Only in Breslau could three, not so young men, wearing top hats, be seen in the city garden on Shabbat afternoon … on the one hand, Shraga Fish (Ferdinand) Rosenthal (1838-1921), the rabbi of the Orthodox community; on the other hand, Yaakov Gutman (1845-1919), rabbi of the Liberal synagogue community; and in the middle, Marcus Bern (1843-1920), Professor of the Seminary (founded by Rabbi Zechariah Frenkel 1801-1875, and constituted a basis for the Conservative movement)…
“This attitude that prevailed in our community was also reflected in the relatively large number of members of the Zionist Organization … in addition, the founding of the Jewish school in 1920, of which I was privileged to be among its first students, was made possible only by mutual understanding between the Zionists, including the secular ones among them, and the Orthodox …”
“On the stamp of the Breslau community are two intersecting wooden sticks, and below them, the verse ‘and they shall be together in your hand’, immediately recalling the beginning of the verse: ‘Finally, bring them together into a single stick, so that they become one in your hand’ (Ezekiel 37:17). This is the mission. And its reward – unity!”
Tisha B’Av as background
Our Sages said:
“Due to what reason was the First Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there were three matters that existed in the First Temple: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed… However, considering that the people during the Second Temple period were engaged in Torah study, observance of mitzvot, and acts of kindness, and that they did not perform the sinful acts that were performed in the First Temple, why was the Second Temple destroyed?
It was destroyed due to the fact that there was wanton hatred during that period. This comes to teach you that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed” (Yoma 9b). Still, we do not know if the sin of the former, or the latter, are more severe. Rabbi Elazar replied: “Look to the Temple and see if it has been restored.” The First Temple was built after seventy years, and the Second Temple is still in ruins.
Tu B’Av as background
Our Sages said:
“There were no days as happy for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur” (Ta’anit 30b). Yom Kippur is considered a particularly good day, as it is a day of pardon and forgiveness. The question is: what is special about Tu B’Av? A number of explanations were given in the Gemara, and many of them are related to the Achdut (unity) of Israel.
1) This was the day on which the members of different tribes were permitted to enter one another’s tribe, by intermarriage.
2) The day on which the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to enter the congregation of the Jewish people, after the great war between Israel and Benjamin, following the support of the children of Benjamin for the wicked who abused the concubine.
3) The day on which King Hoshea, son of Ela, canceled the guards that Jeroboam, son of Nevat, placed on the roads so that the Jews would not ascend to Jerusalem for the pilgrim Festival.
Sometimes, overcoming the feelings of hatred and the need to be friendly with those who oppose you for justified reasons, such as the memories of the bloody war with the tribe of Benjamin, is more of an affliction of the soul, than the fast of Yom Kippur. Therefore, the tikun (rectification) of Tu B’Av is, to a certain extent, equivalent to that of Yom Kippur.
May it be that during these days which included Tisha B’Av and Tu B’Av, we merit increasing peace among Jews, and as a result, we all merit repenting completely.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.