Liberal Jews using Western Wall violence to bestow collective guilt - opinion

People are individuals and are to be judged on their actions, but this is actually what liberals are doing to haredi Jews right now. 

 HAREDI PROTESTORS scuffle with police as the Women of the Wall movement holds Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Western Wall, in March. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
HAREDI PROTESTORS scuffle with police as the Women of the Wall movement holds Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Western Wall, in March.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

One has to ask a vital question: are all guilty for the actions of a few? Recently, a group of teens interrupted a bar mitzvah service at the section of the Western Wall that is designated for non-traditional prayers. Clearly, their actions were reprehensible. Does the rowdiness of a couple of teenagers at the Western Wall mean that everyone who looks the same, supports and agrees with their acts of violence?

People are individuals and are to be judged on their actions. Not every citizen of Israel is guilty if some Israeli contractor rips you off in a home remodel in California. This is actually what liberals are doing to haredi Jews right now. 

Personally, I believe that the traditions of Judaism reaching back to King Solomon, of separation of men and women, and classical Jewish observance, should be maintained and respected on that hallowed ground. Still, what these teens did was wrong; violence should not be used to impose one’s views.

Now, liberal Jewish groups are using this unfortunate incident to bestow on all religious Jews’ collective guilt. They have gone as far as calling it a new form of antisemitism; even Deborah Lipstadt, the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, has echoed those comments. Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs called last week for change in the haredi educational system, which he believes is replete with animus of Reform Jews.

The debates between the liberal movements and those adhering to the classical teachings of the Torah have been going on for over two centuries. The Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements have made major changes to the fundamentals of Judaism. A great majority deny the divinity of the Torah; the Reform support intermarriage. They have modified the standards for identity, lowering the bar for conversion, creating patrilineal descent. 

 A haredi boy protests at the Egalitarian prayer section of the Western Wall by blowing a whistle and disrupting prayer. (credit: MASORTI MOVEMENT) A haredi boy protests at the Egalitarian prayer section of the Western Wall by blowing a whistle and disrupting prayer. (credit: MASORTI MOVEMENT)

In the wake of the recent US Supreme Court decision, they have ignored Judaism’s historical nuanced position on abortion, supporting it only when a mother’s life is endangered. Instead, they argued for abortion on demand, claiming it as a religious right. These positions challenge basic Jewish beliefs. For a Jew with fidelity to Torah, it creates a great quandary on how to respond. 

Some rise in anger, and that is what happened at the Western Wall last week. A better and more mature response is to argue against the ideas, and not against the person – and to always do this with dignity and respect. Many are deeply troubled by the unilateral changes to religious beliefs that the liberal movements have made. We must also understand that they too are in an existential struggle of balancing modernity and Jewish values. We need to debate and argue, not to hate and act with violence. 

IT SEEMS that this instance of a few kids acting improperly has become a public issue for a much different reason. The Western Wall deal has hit a dead-end; in recent meetings, then-prime minister Naftali Bennett noted the deal was politically unrealistic. Now Yair Lapid is sitting in his chair, and is far more sympathetic to the liberal movements. Using the accusation of collective guilt, instead of admonishing those personally responsible, provides liberal leaders with a new reason to assert their position. Op-eds and statements from Jewish organizations make a tumult and advance a cause.

Yes, Ahavat Yisrael (love among Jews) needs to be taught with greater intensity in all schools in Israel, and the principle of disagreeing with the ideology and still loving the Jew needs to be emphasized. Clearly, the liberal movements must also do some self-reflection. During last year’s war in the Gaza Strip, about a hundred liberal rabbinical students issued a public letter condemning Israel. At the same time, they said nothing about the missiles shot by the Hamas terrorist regime.

One of the signatories told the JTA, “I don’t feel like I have ground to stand on to try to influence how Palestinians respond to oppression.” These students are the products of the premier institutions of higher learning of the liberal movements. They nurtured those students who spoke out so brazenly as Israeli cities were being targeted by missiles. This was not a bunch of rowdy teenagers; they are in advanced post-graduate programs. Their institutions are preparing them to be the next generation of leaders of American Jewry. 

To me, that is a far graver failure of education than a bunch of teens looking for trouble. Yes, Reform leaders like Jacobs have spoken up for Israel. Still, when a significant percentage of the students of your foremost institutions take a position condemning Israel as its citizens huddle in shelters, something is clearly wrong.

So, let’s tone down the rhetoric; let’s take violence and collective guilt off the table. Let’s be honest: we have differences, they are not going away, and some of them are theological divisions we cannot bridge. We must remember that we have a collective destiny as Jews, and this is what is truly important. 

The writer is president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County, California. [email protected]