Turning Amalek Into Jew vs. Jew

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Where does that leave us?  The ramifications of preaching this hatred are not just theological. This vilification causes reverberations felt around the world.  This message brings Jews and other supporters of Israel–90 percent of whom are not Haredim–to despair if there is a place for them among the Jewish people or in Israel.  The consequences when they seek a place at the Kotel, the most revered site of Jewish unity, are also profound. For months, Shteinman and others have been instrumental in supporting the initiatives of Israeli politicians and through them, the police, to subvert the April 2013 appellate court order of Judge Sharon Lari-Bavli directing that Women of the Wall have the legal right to pray according to their customs at the Kotel–including out-loud prayer, wearing tallit and tefillin and reading from a Sefer Torah. But “spiritual leader of the haredi world Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman gave his blessing to the proposal” of “MKs from the United Torah Judaism party” to send “[l]arge numbers of haredi school girls … to the Western Wall …, in protest against the Women of the Wall activist group.”

After spending years arresting women for wearing tallitot at the Kotel, terming it a “public disturbance,” but now prohibited from making these arrests due to Bavli’s order, Shteinman and the police have adopted a new tactic. In recent months, they have crowded the tiny women’s section of the Kotel (1/4 of the size of the men’s section, due to the order of the Haredi Kotel administrator)–30 minutes before the 24-year-standing seven AM davening time of Women of the Wall, so that when the Women of the Wall arrive there, the police tell Women of the Wall that there is not room for them to enter. In July, on Rosh Hodesh Av, WOW members were forced to stand next to the public bathrooms, in the parking lot, not even in sight of the Kotel. Last week, on Rosh Hodesh Elul, they were slightly closer, but still prohibited from the women’s section of the Kotel.

whistles at the KotelAnd last week another method of harassment was intensified. Haredi men and boys were organized and equipped with ear-splitting whistles, many provided by the man in this photo. They surrounded Women of the Wall during most of their prayer, with the permission of the police. The same police who arrested women for wearing tallitot on the grounds that it was a “public disturbance”, told Haaretz that they allowed these men and boys to blow these whistles, surrounding these women while praying, since “blowing a whistle was not against the law or a disturbance of the peace, and therefore, none of the protestors had been detained”.

Shteinman’s lesson is clear: The prayers of other Jews also need to be blotted out like Amalek, even Jews like Women of the Wall, who pray the same traditional liturgy on Rosh Hodesh that you do, minus the curses against other Jews.

How can we move forward from Elul into Tishrei when confronted with these challenges? As this week’s parasha teaches us: “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide yourself from them: you shall surely bring them back to your brother. And if your brother is not near to you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it to your house, and it shall be with you until your brother shall seek after it, and you shall restore it to him again. In like manner you shall do with his ass, and so shall you do with his garment, and with every lost thing of your brother’s which he has lost, and you have found, you shall do likewise, you may not hide yourself” (D’varim / Deuteronomy 22: 1-3). Some years ago, Reb Mimi Feigelson, spiritual mentor of the American Jewish University in California, offered some insight into these verses. She wrote that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov challenges us with a question about lost “spiritual objects.” “[W]hen remembering how there was a time where our belief in God, humanity, or a sustaining philosophy that held us are now lost from us; when words of the siddur (prayer book) that once felt like ‘home’ have lost their meaning and significance” or perhaps, when our very sense of being part of one Jewish people is threatened–“in these moments, who is the finder of such losses in our life?”

“For Rebbe Nachman the answer is quite obvious–the Ribbono Shel Olam (the Master of the World)–He is the finder of such losses. And He will hold on to it for us until we are ready to reclaim it and bring it back into our direct possession.  We may need time to work through a relationship or a theological challenge.” She suggests taking Rebbe Nachman’s teaching a further step. “Can we help each other reclaim that which was dear to our heart and soul? While journeying through this month of Elul and cleaning out the rooms of our heart and soul, can we designate one corner as a ‘lost and found’ for our dear ones to come and claim that which they have lost, and we in love and faith have been holding on to for them?”

Let us all take this deep teaching to heart in our search for ahavat Yisrael (love of all Jews) and indeed, of Israel, and achdut (unity). As we search to find these precious values and pray for their restoration, let all the Jewish people safeguard these values, let us hold them close to our hearts, and also share them freely. May our pursuit not be after Jews designated as “Amalek” but as rod’fei shalom, pursuers of peace, and as guardians for those who have lost their way, to help all Jews come together, reclaiming love and unity from all four corners of the earth–even, and especially, in the land of Israel and at the Kotel.

Iris Richman is a Conservative rabbi. To learn more about religious tolerance, visit http://womenofthewall.org.il/category/divrei-torah/. Photo of man handing out whistles courtesy of Tomer Persico.

 

One thought on “Turning Amalek Into Jew vs. Jew

  1. The author of this piece makes the unfortunate mistake (intentional? unintentional?) of writing her piece in a way that alludes to the fact that Rav Shteinman called Women of the Wall Amalek that needs to be blotted out, and that he gives support to those blowing whistles. This intends to besmirch not only Rav Shteinman, but the entire Chareidi community as a whole. As the one who approached Rav Shteinman with Women For the Wall, inquiring about getting his backing for bringing masses of women and girls to the wall to let our voices be heard, his approval was only granted on the condition that everything be done with the utmost dignity and respect- no violence, no yelling, no whistles, etc… Just praying. Thats it. Rav Shteinman does not back the whistle blowers, and in fact, WoW likes their precence, because it allows them to relish in the victim role that they so cherish, because it allows them to garner no support. These guys with the whistles are the unwitting allies of the Women of the Wall, and do not have the support of either Rav Shteinman or the vast Chariedi community, and publishing an article in a way that appears to allude to that is gneivas daas- misleading people with false information, and a sin.

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