Jerusalem and the Battle within Judaism

Trip Start Aug 20, 2013
Trip End Jun 19, 2014

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of Israel  ,
Monday, October 21, 2013

On October 16, the group took our first group tour and we visited the holy city of Jerusalem. Our morning started out at Davidka Square, in West Jerusalem, where we were told our schedule for the day.  Our day started across from the home of Eliezer Ben‑Yehuda who recreated the language of Modern Hebrew, so that it could be a national language.  It's incredible to think about that this one man helped unify the Jews who settled in Palestine and those later who came to Israel.  It made me think of the "dead" languages that had been revived from the brink of extinction including Irish.  What Ben-Yehuda did was create a language that helped bring together Jews from all over the world.   

We discussed throughout the day the conflicts within Judaism between the Secular Jews and those who are Haredi or Ultra-Orthodox.  Many Secular Israelis feel that the Haredi Jews are given money from the government for doing nothing expect reading the Torah and having children.  I’ve heard terms used such as Vampires and Parasites were among some of the tamer things that I heard Secular Israelis use to describe the Haredi.  Jerusalem is divided among Secular Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, and communities of Haredi Jews, Palestinians, and many smaller sects of Christians who live in the Old City.    After lunch was when we got to meet people who are involved in that divide in Judaism. 

At Jerusalem City Hall, we talked to Roi Lavi, a professional city planner who helps plan the different areas of the city.  He talked about the difficulty in crafting a modern city that is so ancient.  He did not spent a lot of time talking about building the city in the Eastern part of the city, the one inhabited by the Palestinians.  The Palestinians regard the Israelis as occupiers and do not want to deal with them at all, and feel that participating in city planning would acknowledge Israeli rule.  Roi told us that it was very difficult to deal with the Palestinians, but spend most of his time talking about the different Haredi neighborhoods and how they want city planning.  They do not want benches or places that people can congregate because they would encourage people to gather in places other than in their homes.  He also explained the battle between deciding what the people need rather than just asking them the question. 

After meeting with Roi at City Hall, we walked over to Hebrew Union College to meet with Peggy, a representative of Women of the Wall.  At the Western Wall (The Kotel), which is the holiest site in Judaism, strict segregation is enforced.  Men go to one side of the wall and women go to the other side.  The man’s side is much bigger and usually men do not need to squeeze in for room.  However, the women’s side is very small.  Women are banned from saying Torah verses out loud and wearing religious garments at the wall.  Women of the Wall demand an hour, each month to pray at the wall out loud, while wearing religious garments.  Throughout their 25 year history, when they went to the Kotel, they were heckled, spat at and have had garbage hurled at them, from Haredi men and women.  Peggy told us all they want is the right to pray in the way that they wish at their holiest site.  To an American it makes a lot of sense and there shouldn’t be a reason that it shouldn’t be allowed.  However, the problem is that the Kotel is not seen as an historic site, its official status is that of an Orthodox Synagogue.  The Haredi believe that the Women of the Wall are breaking the will of God, and that is why they react with such anger.  I support the right of Women of the Wall to pray equally at the Western Wall and it angers me that people are still blinded by fanaticism that they would spit at women who just want the right to say their prayers out loud.  Earlier this year an agreement was reached that would open another part of the Western Wall for all types of prayer.  That feeling led to our final meeting of the day, with Rabbi Yoshua Weinberg

Rabbi Yoshua Weinberg, is a Haredi Rabbi from the Karem Avraham neighborhood of Jerusalem.  When we got off the bus I felt like I was in an alternative reality, and not in the 21st century.  Karem Avraham is a poor neighborhood, because the Haredi Jews usually have large families and only the women work part-time.  Rabbi Weinberg, who born in New York City and immigrated to Israel in 1991, so he spoke English like a real New Yorker.  Weinberg only spoke for five minutes and opened up the floor to questions.  The exchanges between Rabbi Weinberg and our group were heated to say the least.  I will give you a few bits of some of the exchanges.  I asked the Rabbi about how he felt about the Arabs.  He mentioned that he once believed in peace and that Oslo was followed by waves of suicide attacks and that the withdraw from Gaza was followed by rocket attacks.  He in a sense said that he longer believes in peace, but did agree that the Arab citizens of Israel couldn’t be expected to sing Hatikvah.   He was not that fond of the Arabs, and did not criticize the settlers.  He stated this in his ideal world, that the Messiah would come down from Heaven, that the Muslims would willingly take down their mosques on the Temple Mount, they would help rebuilt the Third Temple, and that all Israelis would spent their days studying Torah.  This would be possible, because every country in the world would want to do business with the country that has the Messiah.

The Rabbi was very dismissive of Women of the Wall.  He claimed that their desire to pray at the Wall was only part of a larger plan to change the Haredi.  He said that the Torah does not mandate that women pray, so that is why they have no obligation to pray out loud at the Wall.   He said that in the Torah it says that Women cannot wear Men’s clothes and that is why they cannot pray in religious garments, which are reserved for men.  Leah, one of the women in my program, shouted back at Rabbi Weinberg, so is that you ban pants?  I said wow, this guy is tipping on shallow ice.  I felt that Rabbi Weinberg was dismissive of Women of the Wall, because in his world women have their place.  One of the last things he said was shocking, when he was questioned about what the Haredi Jews do, he said they might not serve in the Israeli Army, but they do their part for Israel by having large families.  He said that the Arabs are having more children and thus it is the responsibility of Jews to have more children, instead of worrying how much each of those children cost.  He said, that if the Arab citizens of Israel begin to outnumber the Jews, they through democratic means destroy the Jewish state.  He also claimed that tourists came to see the Holy Land and Western Wall, because of the Haredi Jews.  He was inferring that the Haredi Jews were holy and that is why people wanted to visit Israel, was to experience the holiness that is offered by the Haredi Jews.  That sent a lot of people “off the wall” and then a shouting match occurred.  I honestly felt that this Rabbi believes what he told us and that he was not trolling, trying to incite us.   I felt we could have respected him more and gave him more room to breathe instead of just shouting at him. All in all, I enjoyed the tour day, and can’t wait for the next one.   
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: