Grapevine: Essence of Judaism

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 Members of the Women of the Wall movement hold Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, November 5, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Members of the Women of the Wall movement hold Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, November 5, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

OVER THE years, Anat Hoffman, the director and a founding member of Women of the Wall, a former City Council member and for some years now the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center was apprehended by the police with other women, for smuggling a Torah Scroll into the women’s prayer section of the Western Wall Plaza on Rosh Hodesh, the start of the new Hebrew month. They were also arrested for wearing prayer shawls, which are traditionally worn by men and not women.

If there had been an incident abroad in which a Jew – regardless of whether he or she was Orthodox, Conservative or Reform – had been arrested for bringing a Torah scroll into what is considered a holy area, there would be a hue and cry in the Jewish world. But in Israel, which purports to be the Jewish State as distinct from the State of the Jews, for any Jew regardless of gender or stream of Judaism to be denied the right to read from the Torah and sing Psalms at the Western Wall is a travesty.

How can we even begin to discuss Jewish unity when Jews in accordance with Halacha are ostracized because they have a certain way of practicing their Judaism? If truth be told, everyone makes their own rules, even when they publicly identify with a certain camp.

There are so many inconsistencies in Judaism, that on the face of it, Judaism is a religion open to all.

For instance, anyone who has paid close attention to the weekly Torah portions since we once again began reading from Genesis, will have noticed that the many men who are mentioned are the sons of their fathers, but in most cases, their mothers are ignored. Yet to be a hereditary Jew, one has to be born to a Jewish mother. When a man is sick, and prayers are said for him to be restored to health, he is the son of his mother. But if he dies, he is the son of his father. It is customary among Jews to engrave on the tombstones of deceased people that they are the sons or daughters of their fathers. For centuries, their mothers were overlooked. It is only in recent years that both parents are listed.

Children of Israel are forbidden to marry Moabites. Yet Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, from whom it is believed that the Messiah will descend, was a Moabite. Today’s Orthodox rabbinate would almost certainly reject her conversion according to the stringencies they impose.

Even Moses did not take a wife from among his own people, but married Tzipporah, the daughter of a Midianite priest – yet Moses is regarded in Jewish tradition as the greatest of role models.

So long as the essence of Judaism remains – and it certainly does to varying degrees in all the different streams of Judaism, no one should take on the right to stop another Jew from praying in the place and the manner that they feel is the most spiritual.

■ OPTICS MAGNATE and real estate developer Laurent Levy has from time to time been criticized in this column for changing the face of the city, simply because his financial means give him the accompanying clout to do so. But this time, he deserves a little praise for reminding downtown Jerusalem passersby of days long gone. On a side wall of the large hotel and commercial complex that he is building in Jaffa Road, he placed giant replicas of photographs of Jaffa Road and Zion Square taken during the British Mandate period. Some of the buildings shown are still standing, but the businesses they housed long ago are replaced by others, or like Levy’s project, many buildings over nearly a block have been merged, and are now part of one huge project.

The idea of decorating a building site with old photographs is not new, as anyone walking past the projected Knesset Museum can testify. In fact, the historic photos there are changed occasionally and introduce the public to former shapers of the nation’s destiny, all long dead. While interesting, they do not make the impact that those on Levy’s project do at about three meters tall.

■ ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY coupled with the strict COVID-19 conditions imposed by other countries regarding entry, almost but do not quite take the pleasure out of traveling abroad. The bureaucracy is a nightmare, but once all the necessary forms are completed and one has been tested within three days of departure, the anxieties caused by the bureaucratic hassles begin to fade.

Special kudos go to Magen David Adom, for pre-flight COVID testing on Saturday nights, but with all due respect, MDA could have found a more convenient venue than just outside its Romema headquarters. Romema, as most readers know, is an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood which is full of hustle and bustle on Saturday nights as yeshiva boys and seminary girls who have been guests of families in the neighborhood over Shabbat make their way back to the school programs at which they study. In addition, other guests of Romema families and from other ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods don’t linger once Shabbat is over, particularly if they return to their cities and towns by bus. So, the narrow sidewalk next to the COVID testing vehicle is filled with would-be travelers, pushed baby strollers and pulled trolley cases. It’s uncomfortable for both those standing in line and for those trying to get past them.

And there are the queue jumpers who belong to the “it’s all about me” category of the population, who made an appointment and are surprised to see a long line of others who also made appointments but arrived early. Oblivious that some people have been standing patiently waiting for more than half an hour, they push to the front. To credit the MDA personnel, people are processed according to their place in line.

However, the worst part is still to come. Waiting for the result is agonizing, because one doesn’t really know ahead the test results; many people with COVID are asympomatic. But even with good results, there’s a gremlin in the works that notifies that your personal details are incorrect. One notice will come from MDA and another from Ichilov Well Center. A third might even come from the Ministry of Health. The messages advise you to instantly call Ichilov. But that office does not open till 9 a.m. Panic mounts. Finally you make contact only to be told to ignore the message. You try again on another extension and get the same reassurance with the explanation that it’s all automatic and mistakes are common. Then you are expected to fill in a form for the destination country only to discover toward the end that there is no need. You call the travel agent to make sure and receive confirmation that in your case, it isn’t necessary because your medical documents suffice.

Now you know why email reply forms confirm that you are not a robot. 

[email protected]