Take Back the Kotel Part II: Open Up Robinson’s Arch by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

February 16, 2010

Take Back the Kotel Part II: Give Us Robinson’s Arch!

We’ve talked about problems at the Kotel before, and the incident of a woman putting a tallit on and being arrested – or “detained” – for that mitzvah has certainly raised awareness that something has to be done.  Rabbi Helbraun, a Reform rabbi in Northbrook, IL, put it well when he asked Effy Eitam how they could explain to the children of their shul that while they encourage boys and girls to put on tallitot and t’fillin – in this Reform shul! – they need to know that they can be arrested for doing so in the Jewish state!  But I want to suggest an easy solution to the issues at the Kotel: Open up the Robinson’s Arch area of the Kotel for free to all who want to pray there, celebrate there, even just to meditate there.

Robinson’s Arch is a dramatic part of the Western Wall – actually the southern part of the Kotel Hama’aravi – as opposed to the “other” wall area, the Western Wall plaza, which is the south-central part of the Kotel Hama’aravi.  It was excavated since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, and I remember they were working on it forever in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Now it is part of the Davidson Center – a museum that charges money for entry, unless special arrangements are made.  I am not asking for free admission to the wonderful exhibits underground that are uniquely part of the this museum.  What I am calling for is for free, 24 hour access by anyone who wants, to the above ground parts of the Wall.  It is our national heritage, and we should not be denied access.  We have a right to the Western wall and the Southern wall which the area includes as well.

Sources tell me that the Masorati movement, the Conservative movement in Israel, has rights to it – I’m not sure, but that’s what I’ve heard from a few sources.  Maybe the Israel antiquities authority has some control over it.  However, to the best of my knowledge the Rabbinate or Religious authority of the Kotel does NOT have control over it.  That’s why now, people can have B’nai Mitzvas there however they daven, and women can read Torah there.  But that is only in limited ways, and I have heard that you can’t bring tables or chairs there – everything that makes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in the main part of the Kotel – to the north – feasible and more substantial.  And if a group of Reform tourists or from the local Reform shul – Kol Haneshama – ended up there on Shabbat after a stroll around the walls on Shabbat, they couldn’t just go in and daven.  In fact, I don’t know if you can go in at all on Shabbat morning!  I am calling not for freedom at the “old” Western Wall; I am calling to open the “real” Western Wall – the Southern Bend of the Western Wall!

Yes, in an ideal world the religious authorities and the government would be pluralistic and would allow all sorts of davening, even in different sections, at the main plaza of the Kotel.  But until that moment comes, we have something we should be able to do right now: Open up Robinson’s Arch to all davening, all the time.  If you come from Dung gate, it where many of the buses leave you off, it is actually the first “Kotel” you see: people don’t even have to know that there is a Wall where women get arrested for wearing a tallit or pelted for reading a … Torah!  At the real wall, you can daven how you want to daven, and there are wonderful areas for different groups to gather and celebrate.  But we need the cooperation of the Masorati movement, or the Davidson family, or whoever controls Robinson’s Arch!   Maybe would could ask the Davidson family to endow this area for davening, so that the museum would not lose out on their dues.  One way or another, we can easily open up this place of t’filla.

So on this one I say, don’t blame the chareidim!  We don’t need that frum, restricted, non-inclusive wall.  We already have a Wall, a genuine, dramatic Western Wall, where we can have everyone daven the way they want to.  Let’s use it and let others use it.

Open Up Robinson’s Arch!  Let Us Pray!  Let Us Wear Our Tallitot!  Let Us Read Our Torah! Let Us All, Men and Women, Sing Hallel Out Loud!

And I would not be surprised if soon enough the people who put t’fillin on at the other Wall, will come to the new, inclusive Wall, and the men and women will be waiting outside the new Wall for our tzedaka, and people can start putting notes in the new Wall, and we can start bringing Barbara Streisand and any other celebrity or politician to the new Wall.  Let’s continue to fight the good fight for separation of government from religion, but in the meantime let’s make sure that anyone who wants to daven to Hashem, in any way, has a way to do it at the Wall.  As the famous telegram said in June 1967,  “HaKotel Biyadeinu” –“The Kotel is in our hands!”  Indeed it is , we just have to open it up to all.

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Bread And Butter Orthodoxy – Rabbi Barry Gelman

February 16, 2010

Modern Orthodox Jews have a tendency to offer pronouncements on controversial issues. Some of those issues are the definition of orthodox, the ordination of orthodox women and the place of homosexuals in the orthodox community.

As I have noted before, it seems that these issues and other “hot button” items exercise the emotions of many within the modern orthodox camp. These issues are important; my concern is that they tend to overshadow the “bread and butter” of Orthodox Judaism.

There are many who are quick to make bold statements on either side of the big issues, but who are silent and absent when it comes to Tefilla B’ Tzibbur (davening with a minyan each day) and regular Torah study.

There are two things about this pretense that concern me.

  1. It does not ring true: Our brothers and sisters to our right mock us (rightfully?) when we pronounce on issues while we do not “walk the walk” of Orthodoxy. What good is all the talk if our Modern Orthodox statements are not backed up by Orthodox living?

 

  1. We believe our own hype: Spending our time making declaration on these issues blinds us from the more important fundamental aspects of Orthodox life and leave us believing that as long as we are on the correct side of the argument on the cutting edge issue, even as we fail to excel in the primary and essential aspects of Judaism, we are OK.

We need to redirect our energies so others will take us seriously and so we can take ourselves seriously.


Flying On An Airplane – Rabbi Barry Gelman

October 20, 2009
I flew to NY yesterday on a very early flight – too early to daven before I left so I had to daven on the plane.
 
I have come to really enjoy davening on airplanes.
 
First of all, on these early morning flights, as was the case yesterday morning, most people were asleep and it was very quiet. I found it very peaceful and davening at my own pace without the sounds of others. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the sounds of a lively tefilla in shul, but my quiet airplane davenig was a welcome change of pace.
 
The are so few times in our lives when we actually have the opportunity to be in silence. usually the only time we are alone with potential for quiet time is in the car and then we usually put on the radio. Being alone and in a quiet space is often an unsettling experience as our thoughts may take us places emotionally that we do not want to go. On the other hand, quiet gives us a chance to think and concentrate, if only for a few minutes on important matters and the important people in our lives.
 
A second reason why I ennjoy davenign on airplanes is that from time to time I am inspired in ways that do not happen at my regular minyan. Here is an exammple from yesterday.
While daveing on the plane and reciting the blessing of “Ata Chonen L’adam Da’at” – “you grace humanity with knowledge” – I was overcome with a sense of gratefulness to God. I thought for a moment about all of the wisdom and knowledge that is involved in airplane travel and feelings of gratitude to God for granting humanity knowledge rushed over me.
 
It was a powerful spiritual moment, one in which I was reminded that even the most mundane and common occurences can connect us to our creator.
 
 

Appreciating the P’sak of Rav Elyashiv, sh”lita, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

October 6, 2009

There has been a lot of misguided criticism of the “anti-Croc” p’sak of Rav Elyashiv two weeks ago before Yom HaKipurim, when the great Ashkenazic sage and halachik authority suggested that people not wear comfortable Croc shoes on Yom Kippur, even though they are not leather a do not violate the letter of the law – the prohibition of wearing leather shoes. Some on the left and even in the right might view this negatively as part of the “chumra of the month” club. But if they do, they are missing out on two important aspects of Rav Elyashiv’s p’sak, which give important direction to all Jews, and certainly for passionately committed Morethodox Jews.
First, Rav Elyashiv was careful to distinguish between the halacha itself, which allowed any non-leather shoes, even comfortable ones like Crocs, and his personal opinion, his “gut” feeling, as it were, that it was in keeping with the atmosphere of Yom Kippur which is about being a little less comfortable – and fancy and trendy, I may add – than usual. Frankly, the subtlety of Rav Elyashiv’s p’sak is rarely seen in Centrist Orthodox or even in Modern Orthodox p’sak, where everything that is prohibited has to be a Torah violation, or a rabbinic decree going back 2000 years. Rav Elyashiv evinces confidence – reminiscent of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l – that he can suggest something without needing to back it up from Sinai.
Second, Rav Elyashiv is willing to break from the status quo. He is willing to be creative – though it is to be machmir, to restrict, in this case – and to think outside the box. Just because we have always focused on whether a shoe is leather or not, doesn’t mean that that is the only criterion to think about on Yom Kippur. This is refreshing creativity that I believe appears frequently in chareidi p’sak. Again, it is usually used to restrict, and sometimes in an almost cruel manner as in the case of retroactively nullifying a get – a divorce – that the court granted, however, at least a great Torah sage is willing to say something new, something unheard of in a previous generation. That should be a hallmark of the halachik process, and it means all the more coming from a frum posek, and a revered chareidi leader such as Rav Elyashiv, sh’lita.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Rav Elyashiv realizes that Yom Hakippurim, as any holiday or halachik practice, needs to be meaningful. The restriction on wearing leather needs to mean something: and in Rav Elyashiv’s opinon, wearing comfortable, cool shoes which many people prefer to leather shoes anyway, takes away from the meaning of Yom Hakippurim – to afflict your selves (nafshoteichem). Morethodoxy needs to learn from Rav Elyashiv and be on the forefront of reading Torah and halacha in a way that gives meaning to Jewish practice, rather than turning it into an ossified, bizarre tradition. For Rav Elyashiv, afflicting yourselves, and not wearing leather shoes, is a living tradition – part of the Living Covenant that Rabbi David Hartman writes about so eloquently.
Not that Rav Elyashiv, sh’lita, needs my approval, but I hope someone tells him that somewhere in galus, in the city that didn’t get the Olympics, is a Morethodox rabbi who is inspired by his p’sak, a rabbi who wore uncomfortable canvas shoes all of Yom Hakippurim.
May we continue to be inspired by our great leaders to continue to see the meaning, creativity and relevance of the Torah and Mitzvot that God gave us.


5770: The Year of Carmit, with Rabbi Asher Lopatin

September 7, 2009

Many of you know that my wife and I, and our four kids, plan to make aliya in the summer of 2011 to a new town being built 20 minutes north of Beer Sheva, Carmit.  The vision for Carmit is that it should be a diverse, pluralistic town eventually growing to over 10,000 people, with affordable, quality, environmentally sensitive housing.  We want to attract Americans, Anglos and Israelis, datti’im of all stripes and chilonim of all stripes – just as long as people are willing to live happily in an open-minded and non-judgmental community.

My plan is to be a community rabbi in this town, to be a Rav Kehilati of a shul that reaches out to all Jews, and believes in actively programming for the community and creating an environment of togetherness and growth.  There is a new appreciation in Israel, especially amongst rabbanei Tzohar, that the shul has to be a welcoming place for everyone in the community, not just the regulars or those who feel that have to come to find a minyan or a place to hear Torah reading.  I want to be part of that new trend.  A group of us in Chicago, including a wonderful couple Dan and Rosie Mattio – and their young baby – have formed a non-for-profit called CIPF (Chicago Israel Philanthropic Fund) whose mission it is to bring Americans to Israel by creating diverse and pluralistic communities.  If you want more information see the web site: CIPF.org.

Already, without even starting any official publicity, we have over 35 families – from just out of college to retirement age – who have expressed strong interest in moving to Carmit.  We hope that Carmit becomes a cultural, educational and religious destination in Israel – perhaps the pluralism capital of the Holy Land.  I sincerely hope that the environmental groups in Israel welcome Carmit because the type of people moving to Carmit are excited about sustainable, green living and will be the best advocates Israel has for caring for the environment.  Likewise, I hope that Carmit is seen as a friend of the Jewish and Arab population – especially the Bedouins – of the Negev, because we truly will be: we will be the advocates for all populations of the Negev, and we have already had ideas about how to reach out to Bedouins nearby, to Ethiopian Jews  not too far away, and to the students who are part of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, who are eager to engage in social action.

Carmit, just one hour from Tel Aviv (by train) and a bit over an hour from Jerusalem, will God willing be a town representing the best of Avraham and Sarah’s open, welcoming tent and will provide a model for Jews and human beings all over the world of how to live together in harmony, learning from each other, respecting each other and benefiting from diversity and different ways of being descent human beings.

Stay tuned…

Asher Lopatin