By Larry Gordon
Charlie Miller, an attorney in Woodmere, is not happy with our coverage of pro-Israel or what he calls pro-Zionist events here in New York. Charlie says that our coverage on those topics is skimpy and frequently hard to find. On the other hand, Pinny Lipschutz, editor of the New York-based chareidei newspaper Yated Ne’eman, says and has written that I have accorded too much coverage to what he refers to as those who are Zionists and hostile to Torah in Israel. He refers specifically to MK Dov Lipman, a rabbinically ordained product of Ner Yisrael Yeshiva in Baltimore, a resident of Bet Shemesh in Israel, and now a Member of Knesset from Yesh Atid, the party much maligned by the chareidi press.
I was talking the other day to our columnist Shmuel Katz, in Israel, about how displeased the so-called chareidi press is with MK Lipman, to which Shmuel responded, “Who cares what the chareidi press thinks in New York? It’s irrelevant and unimportant.”
So I was pondering these opposing and even contradictory criticisms of our editorial positions and coverage of events and find it somewhat staggering that we can be approaching issues in a fair and equitable fashion but also be accused of doing the precise opposite by various individuals and entities. I guess different people see things in different ways.
I asked MK Lipman if he saw the piece criticizing him for promoting himself as a yeshiva man while working with a party that is accused of aiming to undermine the yeshiva system and chareidi communities. He said he does not read or pay attention to those types of fringe and unreasonable criticisms that refuse to deal with the difficult realities of the situation.
Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginzberg, the rav of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center in Cedarhurst and a frequent contributor to these pages, says that my overflowing with praise for MK Lipman is a serious error, that Lipman has bad designs and possibly a devious past that he transplanted from Baltimore to Israel in order to inflict damage on the yeshivish and chareidi communities there. I told him that I thought that was a wild conspiracy theory with no grounding in reality. But, I added, it also serves the interests of those who resist and are opposed to any kind of change to a broken system regardless of the cost or sociological damage that it does to a community.
Not to drag Bob Dylan into this, but “the times they are a-changin’,” and new elected leaders in Israel are attempting to take up these issues head-on before overall society in Israel suffers irreparable damage. Just casting aspersions on mostly well-meaning people and saying that anyone who wants to change the status quo is bad is overly simplistic and counterproductive. I told Rabbi Lipschutz at the Yated that I did not really think that he felt as extreme as his column on the matter expressed. I suggested to him that he take Rabbi Lipman to task because that’s what his readership wants to hear—the newspaper defending the disastrous status quo and system that is hurting and failing families in the religious communities throughout Israel.
For Mr. Miller, who is both very intelligent and an accomplished young man, last week’s front page of the 5TJT also featured too many black hats for one edition of what is supposed to be—and what indeed is—a diverse newspaper serving the broad Orthodox Jewish community of greater New York.
Okay, so it turns out that the two main featured photographs on last week’s front page contained seven men, of whom five were wearing black hats. Two of those five hats were the turned-up kind that is primarily worn in chassidic circles. Does anyone genuinely believe that I or our other editorial people accept or reject photographs for the paper based on whether people are wearing black hats, or what kind of message is being communicated based on the type of hat being worn? It is a ridiculous premise, and I do not want to even dignify the thought process by dedicating too much space to it.
Mr. Miller’s further criticism focused on the fact that, yes, we may have had ample coverage of Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, but that those are the difficult and mournful dimensions of Jewish life and Israel. He wrote that we do not pay ample attention to the living and vibrant aspect of Zionist life both here and in Israel. And that is just simply not true.
There are certainly other detractors and critics of what we present here on a weekly basis, but getting involved in every complaint about coverage of news and events here would be both endless and not fruitful. Needless to say, the one issue that critics seem to harp on and be drawn to more than almost any other is the matter of the Women of the Wall. This, as you may or may not know, is a group of women in Israel that are masters at pulling off prayer-like publicity stunts by defying Israeli policy at the Kotel by insisting on equality in prayer at the Wall in Jerusalem.
The women, led by activist Anat Hoffman, like to lead or perform their own prayer at the Wall in a fashion that emulates how the men pray. They don tallitot, yarmulkes, and sometimes tefillin and insist on reading from a Torah scroll. This type of activity, those in charge say, violates the status quo of what has been unacceptable at the Kotel for decades. But perhaps they see change in the air with the realigning of the governing coalition and the more open and liberal attitudes displayed by Lapid and Naftali Bennett of Bayit HaYehudi. Perhaps they just see this as their chance to make their mark and upend tradition.
Certainly the position that works best in the division of the sexes in Jewish life is that each gender has its own independent but also vital role to play both in the community as well as in the family. Campaigning or advocating that one side spill over or intrude, so to speak, into the other’s domain has never resulted in anything healthy or productive. And that is true of davening as it is of many other social and religious dimensions of our lifestyle.
So my position is that there is some other kind of dynamic at play here and it is not necessarily about equality or individuals clamoring or yearning to get closer to G‑d. It is mostly about endeavoring to undermine the status quo, which to this point over the last 65 years in Israel has been dominated by the Orthodox. This Women of the Wall thing is plainly directed at the traditional Torah-observant community in Israel and an attempt to force them to share religious authority in the country with those who have casually redefined what Torah and Jewish law fundamentally mean.
The problem of late with the women’s protest in the form of egalitarian worship at the Wall is not about their newfound piety or religious zealotry. It is more than anything else a response to the Orthodox protestations to get the women to stop praying in the same fashion that men do at the Kotel.
Yes, over time there has to be some change on a variety of levels in every society. Those changes can take a multiplicity of forms with some being biological, some psychological, and others sociological. The point is that it is wrong to assume that even though it has looked the same for many years, it is going to stay the same forever.
What does MK Lipman think about the women wearing tallit and tefillin while praying at the Wall? He says we should ignore them. And that is not because he is trying to facilitate that kind of change or agrees that women should be able to organize prayer services at the Kotel. The women are conducting themselves in this vociferous and activist way almost solely because there is such an uproar, with newspapers and websites carrying the story throughout the world. If there were no protests, it is unlikely that these prayer vigils would attract any interest. The Knesset members who joined Ms. Hoffman at the Wall are notably secular and specifically known for their rejection of religion. All of a sudden they are interested in prayer.
Yes, there is change in the air in Israel, but that doesn’t mean that everything needs adjustment or transformation just for the sake of change itself. Some things do and others do not. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.