Between two types of Jewish zealotry

I will say this loud and clear: As long as I have authority, placed upon me by the State of Israel, over the Western Wall, there will be no place for zealotry there.

December 13, 2012 21:58
2 minute read.
Western Wall

Western Wall. (photo credit:


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One of the most pointed and difficult stories in the Babylonian Talmud is that of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, two Jews of Jerusalem who had similar names.

Wicked hatred and public insult propel Bar Kamtza into plotting revenge against all of Jerusalem’s Jews, by defaming them in the eyes of the Roman emperor.

The Talmud describes the rabbis, faced with Bar Kamtza’s vengeful maneuvers, debating whether to fall into the trap set for them or not. On the face of it, the issue was simple, but here a charismatic figure, Zekharai ben Avkulas, enters the picture.

He warned over and over again that every choice could be misinterpreted and serve to raise the people’s ire against the rabbis. The sages listened to Zekharia and decided not to take a position, and thus brought total disaster on Jerusalem. “The humility of Rabbi Zekharia ben Avkulas destroyed our Temple and burnt our sanctuary, and caused us to be exiled from our land” (Gittin 56).

This is the way of zealotry. With pretty words it asks for our protection – in the name of tolerance, of course.

Under the protection of tolerance, it grows and flourishes, until it is impossible to prevent the disaster that it brings upon all of us. The Romans did not destroy the Temple, but rather the distorted “tolerance” of Zekharai ben Avkulas toward the zealots of Jerusalem.

In recent years, I have been under attack from two opposite directions, that each deny the existence of the other. From the side of the traditionalist zealots, I have been attacked because of my vigorous actions to bring thousands of groups of students and soldiers to the Western Wall.

Many of these groups do not live a traditional Jewish lifestyle.

From the liberal zealots’ direction, I have been attacked because of my solid opposition to the attempts of the members of the Women of the Wall to challenge the decisions of the High Court of Justice that ruled that their unorthodox practices can only be carried out in a separate prayer area of the Western Wall.

In the name of religious tolerance, they ask me to “be considerate of their feelings” and to refrain from bringing groups that are not strictly religious, or, alternatively, to allow nontraditional and controversial ceremonies to take place at the prayer plaza. In the name of tolerance they ask me to turn the Western Wall, perhaps the only place that unites all Jews, of whatever type, into a battleground between different groups of zealots.

I will say this loud and clear: As long as I have authority, placed upon me by the State of Israel, over the Western Wall, there will be no place for zealotry there.

The stones of the Wall can teach us about the cost of zealotry. They still remember the heat of the flames, lit by the zealotry of the residents of Jerusalem, each man against his brother. Before these glorious stones, we are charged never to make the same mistake again.

On Hanukka, we will once again light the menorah in the Western Wall Plaza. Rabbis and IDF officers, businessmen and farmers, residents of Israel and guests from overseas will all stand together with us. The lights that unite us will once again shine in the Western Wall plaza. G-d forbid that the flames of dissension harm them in any way.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

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