The RCA and The Women Of The Wall June 14, 2013 11:18 am
By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The most defining battle in the life of Rabbi David B. Hollander zt”l was his fight for the integrity of Orthodoxy. That battle came in the aftermath of the famous p’sak issued by many of America’s leading roshei yeshiva in 1956 prohibiting any rabbinic collaboration with Reform and Conservative clergy.
Rabbi Hollander, then president of the RCA, was determined to ensure that the RCA-affiliated rabbis who sat on mixed boards, such as the New York Board of Rabbis or the Synagogue Council of America, with Reform and Conservative clergy, would resign from those organizations. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. Instead, Rabbi Hollander was vilified and ostracized by the majority of his colleagues.
Decades later, he was asked if he had expected such opposition.
“No,” he replied. “I thought that if a halachic decision was rendered by the leading poskim, my colleagues would certainly comply. I truly believed that my colleagues would understand that if a p’sak is issued by recognized, world-renowned roshei yeshiva and poskim, such as Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein and others, there was not even room for discussion. We rabbis all knew – at least I hope all of us knew – that our scholarship and knowledge of halacha paled in comparison to that of the roshei yeshiva.”
Rabbi Hollander continued: “After I saw that there was fierce opposition, I asked those who opposed my stance to write a halachic ruling to justify their stance. None was ever forthcoming.”
Back then, Rabbi Hollander was a rabbi of what today would be classified as a Modern Orthodox congregation. He was a leading figure in the Mizrachi party, and in that sense he was not a “card carrying chareidi,” but as president of the RCA, he understood that certain aspects of halacha were not negotiable. He was ready to fight for the integrity of halacha and he did.
Condemning the Attackers…
Sadly, it seems that, in some ways, not much has changed at the RCA. We were disappointed to read a recent statement released by the RCA ahead of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, when the self-proclaimed “Women of the Wall” were scheduled to again desecrate the Kosel Hamaarovi by engaging in loud singing while wearing tallisos and tefillin. The RCA released the following statement:
“The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the leading organization of Orthodox rabbis in North America, calls upon all who cherish the Western Wall to maintain its sanctity and the respect that is its due. Even when there is deep disagreement based on religious principles and traditions, there is no justification for invective, threats, provocation, and the hurling of objects attacking those with whom we differ. The RCA affirms that such unacceptable actions misrepresent the values and practices of Jewish life, and the character of the overwhelming majority of those who gather at the Kotel to pray and demonstrate their love for Judaism’s most holy site.
“We call upon the media to accurately report the behavior of the vast majority of those who come to pray, and avoid misrepresenting the actions of a small minority as typical of an entire population.
“In anticipation of the upcoming Rosh Chodesh Tammuz on June 8 and 9, 2013, the RCA calls for the proper decorum and dignity which the holiness and sanctity of the place deserve, and we pray that the peaceful ways of our holy Torah will prevail.”
…But Not the Provocateurs
There is one absolutely glaring omission by the RCA that begs comment: No mention was made about the Women of the Wall.
We certainly concur with the RCA’s call to respect and maintain the sanctity of the Kosel and the respect that it is due. We also commend the RCA for calling on the media to report with accuracy on what transpires at the Kosel.
That being said, we find it troubling that the original sin was not even mentioned in the RCA statement, let alone condemned by the RCA.
The original sin is an outright provocation by the Woman of the Wall against the sanctity of the Kosel and against the way prayer has been conducted in that most holy of places for millennia. It is a no-holds barred assault on the sensitivities of the vast majority of those who daven there.
Is there any reason that the RCA did not even mention that? Is there any reason that the RCA chose to selectively condemn those who hurl objects, but did not condemn those responsible for the original provocation?
It is disappointing that the RCA, the self-described “leading organization of Orthodox rabbis in North America,” would release a statement about events transpiring at the Kosel without condemning a bald-faced effort to ruin the sanctity of the last vestige of the Bais Hamikdosh, the holiest place on earth.
We are saddened that they could not find it within themselves to condemn the stated effort of Reform Judaism to try gaining a foothold at this holiest of places. Are they oblivious to the damage done by Reform in the past 100 years to let something like this pass without comment?
We posed this question to the president of the RCA, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, and received the following response:
“Our purpose in this particular statement was to unequivocally deplore violence of any type in the name of religion. While the most obvious violence was that perpetrated against the Women of the Wall, the statement does mention our opposition to provocation, as well – from whichever side it comes.
“Moreover, we debated long and hard as to whether we should include a more obvious mention of the initial actions of the Women of the Wall. We felt that to do so, in this particular statement, would diminish the strength of our opposition to the violence. From our perspective, no matter what the provocation, there can be no excuse for such actions.”
We respectfully disagree with that view. Certainly, the talented wordsmiths at the RCA could have found a formula that both condemned the violence and, at the same time, acknowledged the assault on the holiest mokom tefillah in the world.
Truth be told, RCA members hold widely divergent views. We have corresponded with member rabbis who are very troubled by the RCA statement, which makes no mention of the provocation of the Women of the Wall and their attempt to change the character of the Kosel. Unfortunately, it would seem that the ultra-left-wing of the RCA holds sway and compromises must be made to placate them. Thus, something as elementary as an assault on the holiest place in the world accompanied by a gaggle of reporters and photographers; something that represents the absolute worst in middos and insensitivity, causing so much pain to the thousands of G-d-fearing Jews who frequent the Kosel, rain or shine, and not just on Rosh Chodesh, could not be unequivocally condemned.
Later we were sent another statement released by the RCA condemning the rally against the drafting of yeshiva bochurim that was held in New York this past Sunday.
In their statement, the RCA deplored those that rallied. They neglected to mention what the demonstrators were protesting, but rather painted it as a generic anti-Zionist protest, “To undermine the image Americans have of strong, unshakeable, wall-to-wall Jewish support of Israel…”
Not one word was said about the draft, not one word of sympathy was heard from Orthodox Rabbis expressing empathy and with thousands of talmidei chachomim who will directly suffer if the present government recommendations are put in place. Not one word of understanding that the present Israeli government is engaging in a battle against one segment of Orthodox Jews in a way that no government ever has done in the 65 years since the founding of the State of Israel. Orthodox Rabbis, even if they disagree with certain positions should be the first to understand the importance of Torah learning and those who devote their lives to Torah study.
Sadly again, the total lack of balance in the RCA statement speaks for itself.
Who is Speaking at This Year’s RCA Convention?
This brings us to another distressing issue. There are close to 30 kippah-wearing members in the present Israeli Knesset. Out of all of them, the one invited by the RCA to address their convention later this month is Yesh Atid’s MK Dov Lipman. The adulation that Lipman seems to engender in segments of the Modern Orthodox community is troubling. If they really wanted to address what they consider chareidi dysfunction and the fact that so many are not prepared for the workforce, they would do their homework and realize that, over the past years, there has been an exponential increase in chareidim joining the workforce and attending colleges, whose programs have been designed with their unique needs in mind. If they really wanted to help, they would have worked from within the system to increase these tracks.
Instead, they have chosen confrontation, the cudgel of legislation, and even criminal charges that will just serve to harden the chareidi position, thereby ensuring that fewer chareidim, not more, will join the workforce.
The insistence of Lipman’s party, Yesh Atid, for criminal charges to be leveled against chareidim for not complying with the draft directive is the greatest indicator that it is their hatred of chareidim and not solving what they deem to be the problem that is driving them. In fact, they were so insistent on the criminal charges that they were willing to let the government fall apart over the issue.
It is distressing that out of all the Knesset members, the RCA chose such a divisive individual.
Eradicating “Kotlerism,” Then and Now
This brings to mind another incident heard from Rabbi Hollander.
The RCA convention was held in Lakewood, NJ, sometime during the 1950s. Rabbi Hollander went to visit Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Bais Medrash Govoah in Lakewood, and invited the Rosh Yeshiva to address the convention. To Rabbi Hollander’s delight, Rav Aharon agreed to speak. When Rabbi Hollander returned to his colleagues to tell them what he thought was great news, one of the most prominent member Rabbis of the RCA at the time got up and said, “Univite him! We do not want “Kolterism” here in America. .”
“Kotlerism” represented the supremacy of Torah and Torah learning in our lives. “Kotlerism recognized that learning Torah l’shmoh, regardless of whether you were an ilui or not was an ideal for which every ben Torah should strive. “Kotlerism” believed that guidance must be taken from the senior gedolei haTorah of our time. It was this that the Orthodox rabbi wanted to eradicate.
It is this that MK Lipman also wants to eradicate. Even worse he wants to eradicate it from Eretz Yisroel.
It is deeply troubling that in some quarters of the RCA, the desire to battle “Kotlerism” still seems to exist.
Sadly, it seems that, in some way, things have not changed since the 1950s. At that time, a significant number of the Orthodox rabbis in the RCA could not bring themselves to show proper deference to the roshei yeshiva who represented the lion’s share of gedolei Yisroel and leading poskim of that time. At that time they showed that they despised the most cherished religious ideal for which those senior Torah sages stood. Today, as well, sadly, whether it is regarding the
Women of the Wall, the issue of drafting bnei yeshiva or the campaign of hatred by Yesh Atid and its token “Uncle Tom,” Dov Lipman, things have, tragically, not changed.
May Hashem shine His light on all of us and take us out of this terrible golus – a golus that includes being in golus to our fellow Jews.