Incident at the Wailing Wall

While reading about Jerusalem lately, I recalled my first visit to the Wailing Wall. The Wailing Wall is the only standing part left of the temple that Herod the Great refurbished on the site of the temple originally built during Solomon’s reign, destroyed by the Babylonians, and rebuilt under the Persians. This was called the “Second Temple” because the first had been razed and although Herod had basically rebuilt it, the second one had never been destroyed (that would happen a few decades down the road). Today the Wailing Wall, the western wall of that magnificent temple, is a sacred site to Jews, and to not a few Christians. My visit took place in 1987. I was volunteering on a dig at Tel Dor, and on a free weekend I’d taken the bus to Jerusalem with some friends to look around.

It was late Friday afternoon. I was on my first trip overseas, and, like most fresh-eyed youngsters, photo-documenting as much as I could. I raised my camera. A guard walked up to me. “No pictures on the Sabbath,” he said. He had a machine gun and I didn’t, so there was no arguing the point. Besides, I had just finished the roll. (Does anyone out there remember film cameras?) I stepped into the shade of an alcove to change the roll. A couple of Hasidic men stopped me. “No photos on the Sabbath,” they warned. I assured them I was just changing my film. It was clear, however, that no more pics would be snapped. I rejoined my party and took out a notebook—at least I could jot down a few impressions. Another guard approached, “No writing on the Sabbath,” he said.

This episode has stayed with me over the years. With Trump’s international tour, I’m reminded that I’ve always striven to avoid the “ugly American” syndrome. I respect the local rules. The incident at the Wailing Wall, however, was a case of religious rules, wasn’t it? Does the enforced rest of the Sabbath apply to Protestants? Indeed, I’d been warned that if I didn’t catch a bus before sundown I’d never make it to Jerusalem on a Friday evening at all. Conflicting theocracies have led to more than their share of international sorrow. Why not take the high road and simply absorb what is going on around me? There’s a profound wisdom in that. Travel should inform our worldview. Those who encounter walls should stop and consider all they might mean to all who will eventually face them.

Happy Mother’s Day

Women’s voices raised in prayer. What could be the objection to that? Religion, of course. A story from the Los Angeles Times reports that chaos broke out in Judaism’s most sacred site, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, as women prayed in a newly won, court-authorized action. The ultra-orthodox flooded in to block the sacrilege. No doubt religions have come a long way in trying to redress the wrongs perpetrated against women in their holy names, but true equality remains a distant dream. I’m not picking on Judaism here—nearly all religions contain knots, sometimes Gordian in stature, of males who hold their mythology close to their genitals. God made men first, gave them a few extra inches of flesh in a precisely designated region, showing that they are superior. Penis frenzy. Yes, manliness is more than next to godliness, it is divine. So we are taught.

Religions like to make universal claims. How is it that they cannot see that, at least on this planet, universal is half female? It certainly doesn’t make me feel secure knowing there’s an omnipotent guy with an almighty packet hovering in the sky above me. For five thousand years of human religions we’ve yet to see any solid evidence that such is the case. There are even places in the Hebrew Bible where God is referred to as female. Hosea has God say, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them,” (11.4) a translation nearly obliterated by the good old King James. Those who bent down to feed children, in the days before Playtex, were mothers.

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Women have, informally, been the keepers of religious teaching, in the home. Father might be the authority figure, but mother knew the facts of the faith. Even today, especially in the western world, active members of most religions are female. Men, however, reserve the right to make the rules. They say it is God. Our projections on the divine are reflections of our own wills, much of the time. Even patriarchal Paul would claim that in Christianity there is no male and female. But in fact there are. Since Paul’s day, and even before, there always have been. The three major monotheistic traditions agree that Adam was the first created, and Eve came tumbling after. Let the women pray at the Wailing Wall. They are the ones who have, in the name of religion, most cause to wail. Until men can learn the meaning of true equality, it is the least we can ask of common decency.