The Western Wall: "A Religious Discotheque"

Had my trip to Israel not been cancelled, there’s one place that I would not have spent very much time.  I first visited the Western Wall on my post-bar mitzva trip to Israel.  I knew three words of Hebrew, but one of them, yeled (boy) was enough to get my long-haired little brother into the men’s side.  I later learned that for a six year old it shouldn’t have mattered anyway.

What was once, briefly, a place of national gathering, has become a Haredi synagogue.  Before that it was a neighborhood.  When Israeli paratroopers took it in June 1967, the existing Moroccan Quarter (or Mughrabi) was demolished to allow for the onslaught of Israelis celebrating their return to the place.  Like most “holy” places, it was the site of death and destruction.

The more time I’ve spent in “holy” places, the more I’ve realized just how unholy they can really be.  They are mostly places of intensified conflict.  They put the lie to any notion of a universal god.  Everyone has their god and everyone has a place that he did something or other.  If your god and someone else’s god (or the god who took over for your god) did something in the same place, then conflict erupts.

Today is Rosh Chodesh, the Jewish new month, so conflict probably arose this morning when the Women of the Wall held their monthly service with taleisim and Torah scrolls.  There’s a good piece on FailedMessiah.com chronicling their ongoing battles with the Haredim to be allowed to pray in peace.  They have the approval of a lot of Modern Orthodox rabbis to hold their service, but that hasn’t stopped the Haredim from throwing dirty diapers and rocks their way.  It also didn’t stop police from arresting their leader a few months back.

So here we have a “holy” place where even members of what’s supposed to be the same religion of Orthodox Judaism can’t get along.  As Haredi chutzpa continues to assert itself, there’s even talk of creating a bizarre underground entrance just for Haredi men so they shouldn’t have to look at all the immodest visitors.  Or women.

It was an Orthodox Jew, Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who first called the place “a religious discotheque” and place of idolatry (Wall-olatry?).  He might have even coined the phrase “Diskotel” (from the Hebrew for the Wall, Kotel).  To me the place is just a reminder of the typical injustices of religious piety.

A Reform rabbinical colleague once tried to move me with his observation that for centuries our ancestors prayed to go there and now we can finally fulfill their prayers.  That only pushed me one step closer to atheism.  My ancestors engaged in a lot of stupidity.  Does that mean I should, too?

I still visit the place when some new historical finding presents itself (or when I can’t get out of it).  I especially like the adjacent Davidson Archeological Gardens.  I’m certainly not advocating that Israel rebuild the Moroccan Quarter.  I’m no pacifist.  War is war and I’ve studied the Six Day War enough (yes, even Tom Segev) to know that it was a fair victory and to the victor go the spoils.

Yet it’s become an increasingly ridiculous place, now completely dominated by the one group in Israel that had the least to do with capturing it for the rest of the Jews.  All those Haredim are enough to keep me far away from the place.

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