Forward Thinking

At Western Wall, Who Is the Zealot?

By Nathan Jeffay

women of the wall

The Orthodox rabbi who oversees the Western Wall has vowed not to soften his confrontational approach toward Jewish women seeking to pray at the holy site in Jerusalem.

On Friday, police detained four women for wearing prayer shawls as they tried to start a prayer service. There have been numerous similar incidents in the past.

In an article that Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz sent to journalists Tuesday, but apparently written before Friday’s incident, he said that women trying to pray at the wall represent a “liberal-zealous” agenda.

Rabinowitz, who is an Israeli state employee, is the man behind the ban on female public prayer that the police enforces. He presents himself as caught “between two types of zealotry.”

He wrote: “From the side of the traditionalist zealots, I have been attacked because of my vigorous actions t 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-zealous direction.”

The “zealotry” from the other direction is that of the Women of the Wall, the inter-denominational group that wants the right to wear prayer shawls, to pray, and to read out loud from the Torah at the Wall.

Discussing a Talmudic passage he wrote 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.”

He went on to state “loud and clear” that “[a]s 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.”

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