The Jerusalem Post
40 lashes minus one
The scene was chilling, a mini-riot taking place at the Western Wall. A violation and desecration of Jewish ritual objects carried out at the foot of the very site where the Romans violated and desecrated our Holy Temple almost 2,000 years ago. This time it was not a group of pagan soldiers attacking priests and destroying the altar of the offerings, but religious Jews who assaulted their sisters and tore their prayer books page by page. One by one – 39 siddurim, 39 holy books of prayer containing God’s names and blessings for peace and well-being, were torn this past Friday morning at the Kotel by ultra-Orthodox men and children.
There is a dark symbolism to this number. The Torah teaches us that certain transgressions were to be punished by the administration of 40 lashes. Yet, fearing the possible death of the transgressor after the 40th beating, it was ruled that the punishment should be 40 lashes – minus one.
The 39 torn siddurim were each a lash on our souls individually and as a people.
How much longer will we as a people allow the status-quo to continue? Must we wait for the 40th lash until we learn the lessons of the past? As antisemitism and hate crimes rise against Jews round the world, will we protest the hate fomented by our own people only after death and destruction take place?
The Roman soldiers who carried out the destruction of the Temple did so under orders from Heaven, the result of the baseless hatred our people displayed to one another over so many years; the consequence of refusing to bridge differences and at the very least agree to disagree – respectfully.
Four years ago, Rosh Hodesh Tamuz 2017, the Israeli government declared that the historic Western Wall compromise brokered by Natan Sharansky would be canceled. Under pressure from haredi leaders and journalists, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu caved to their demands and halted the plans that would have finally transformed the Western Wall into a place of prayer with the potential to unite Jews of all streams. Instead of creating a space for Orthodox and liberal Jews to pray and let pray in their own respective sections, the government reinforced the extreme position that non-Orthodox (or might I say non ultra-Orthodox) Jewry has no place at the Western Wall. This past Friday morning we saw the bitter result of this flawed decision.
There are many questions for the newly formed government, but one thing should be clear: this current reality cannot continue. Unity requires compromise. It is time to return to the deal of 2013, and to create a safe space for all prayers at the Western Wall.