Is There a Cloak Big Enough?

An evolving midrash on Fabrangen‘s Omer Blog is exploring the idea of eating the fruit — honoring the essential Torah of an individual or community — while discarding the rind: In the case of the talmudic era Elisha ben Abuyah, the “rind” is understood as outright apostasy, but his student/friend Meir continues to defend and enjoy the fruit.

Even beyond the “fruit/rind” strategy, Rabbi Meir insists on redeeming his friend/teacher by spreading his cloak over Acher as Boaz did to redeem Ruth, welcoming the other.

Can this same strategy be employed between Jewish communities with apparently intractable differences of practice and belief? A truly welcoming cloak would have to leave room for the other to be other: is there a cloak that big?

Ratifying a Schism?

On the bus yesterday, I was reading an essay by a modern orthodox rabbi as I wended my way toward Reform services.

I was struck by how deeply I object to some of the non-inclusive things this rabbi author has said, even while I marveled at the depth and beauty of the material in my hand. How much fruit would I miss, I thought, if I let the rind determine what I tasted?

On the other hand, I struggle with whether and how to cite sources, however illuminating in some cases, if they also contain material antithetical to my most basic beliefs: Is citing them exercising inclusivity or legitimating non-inclusive views?

More urgently, events of Rosh Hodesh Sivan (May 10) at the Western Wall illuminate a frightening situation: We have one group of Jews (haredim) calling another group (Women of the Wall) “gentiles.” In response, some Jewish leaders are asking if it’s time to declare that what the haredim practice — at the Wall and elsewhere — is, bluntly, not Judaism.

Perhaps it would it be best if the apparent schism were simply ratified. But what if instead we searched for a way to spread our cloaks, so to speak, over one another?

Or Finding a Cloak?

Is it possible for Jews committed to women’s prayer (aloud and in ritual garb of their choice) to honor the Torah of those who believe this is a desecration? Is there some bit of fruit here — a desire to preserve the practices of our ancestors, perhaps — that can be understood as being honored, even in the actions of Jews who live contrary to haredi practice?

Might it be possible for Jews committed to gendered roles in prayer to honor the Torah of those who believe stifling women’s prayer is a desecration? Is there some bit of fruit here — a desire of a soul to articulate its true nature before God, perhaps — that can be understood as being honored, even in the action of Jews who live contrary to this practice?

Can we switch our embattled positions to ones that seek to honor the Torah in the other?

How much difference would it make if all sides in the conflict — or maybe just those who are able to do so at this time — viewed the other as possessors of Torah worthy of honor?

Permission to Pray

The sitting kedushah includes these words:

All [the ministering angels] receive upon themselves, from each to each, the yoke of heaven’s rule, and lovingly give to one another the permission to declare their maker holy. In an ecstasy of spirit, with pure speech and holy melody, all of them respond in awe as one and cry, “Holy, holy, holy….”
— translation in the Reconstructionist Kol Haneshamah

Arthur Green adds this note on the prayer:

It is only in our love for one another that we are truly capable of granting to each other “permission” to pray. A community of Jews who stand together in real prayer must be one where each individual is known and cared for as a person. Only when such love exists among us are we a community whose members can truly “grant permission” to one another to seek or to sanctify God.


Have we done a sufficient job of seeking “permission” to pray?

If not, how can we begin to do so?


NOTE: Example at the Wall
On Friday, Rosh Hodesh Sivan — just days before Jews everywhere celebrate Shavuot, the festival of Revelation and the culmination of this omer journey begun with Passover — events at the Western Wall demonstrated one deep, so far intractable, matter of essential difference between Jews:

For the first time in 24 years, Israel Police protected nearly 400 Women of the Wall today as they gathered at the Western Wall (Kotel). The women and the police were confronted by thousands of ultra-Orthodox (haredi), both young girls watching from the side and haredi men of all ages, acting out violently towards the group of women.
— from WOW’s press release
NOTE: some media sources report a far smaller WOW gathering, possibly due to the chaos, reported by women on the scene, which made it difficult for WOW to find one another.

For many months, women were arrested at the Wall for “disturbing the peace” by exercising ritual practices — praying out loud, wearing a prayer shawl — that many Jews take for granted but are considered contrary to “custom of the place” in ultra-orthodox synagogues (including the Kotel). A new court ruling argued that “custom of the place” at the Wall is more inclusive than one kind of orthodox practice and allows for women to pray as their practice dictates. But a segment of the population continues to believe such prayer is forbidden. This situation illustrates a deep polarization in view:

“I came to pray and to protest gentiles who masquerade as Jews [WOW],” said Pini, 17, from Jerusalem, quoted in a Forward article. “They’re making the Torah crooked. They want us to be like them.”

Meanwhile, a statement from Anat Hoffman, chair of WOW, while understandable, even restrained, given the invective and abuse, could well be interpreted to support the “want us to be like them” fear:

We always wanted to reach out to the seminary girls and today they reached us. We connected, we prayed side by side as women of faith. I hope the young girls recognized that our prayers do not violate halakha and they respect that.

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One thought on “Is There a Cloak Big Enough?

  1. Just writing, wishing to thank you for engaging this topic, and with sensitivity to what seems to be some of the real substance of the different positions, and in consideration of the implications of seeking to arrive at a meeting of the minds.

    Ira Zukerman

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