Vayera: Speaking truth and questioning the power

Speaking truth to power takes chutzpah.

Questioning that the power really resides in who you’re speaking to takes it to a whole other level.

In this week’s parasha, Abraham speaks truth to God. God has decided to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah because of their extreme immorality, and Abraham is understandably disturbed by this.  He says, “Will you sweep away the innocent along with the wicked?” (Gen. 18:23)  And he continues:  Far be it from You to do such a thing…Far be it from You…Must not the Judge of all the earth act justly?”

That’s chutzpadik.

Abraham spoke boldly to God, bargained with God, and challenged God’s behavior – actually accused God of acting immorally.  Yet there was no argument that God really did have the power.  Abraham challenged God on action, not authority.

It takes far more courage, but is far more necessary, to speak up against those that assume they have the authority, and expose them for both their immoral actions and their inappropriate abuse of power.

Such is the case with Anat Hoffman, director of Women of the Wall.  If you haven’t heard, WoW is an organization of women who, for over 20 years, have gathered at the Kotel (the Western Wall) in Israel on every Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) to pray.  The Kotel plaza is segregated by gender, and the women’s section gets smaller every year.  Yet these women, with whom I have had the honor of praying, show up each month, carrying the Torah, some in tallitot (prayer shawls), prepared to sing and pray, but also prepared to be shoved, harassed, pushed, sworn at, and sometimes physically attacked.  Two weeks ago, Anat came to the Kotel with reverence for Judaism and prayer, in her beautiful WoW tallit, and recited the Shma.  She was arrested.  She was shackled at her hands and feet. She was dragged across prison cell floors.  She was strip searched.  Read more here, if you can stand it.

All because she said the Sh’ma in public, at the Wall.  The statement of faith, of unity, that has kept our people together for thousands of years. And now, the few but shouting minority deem the Sh’ma to be fightin’ words, pitting Jew against Jew?  To say, “Shame!” doesn’t go far enough.

In an interview with Anat, she mentions that Israelis don’t seem as outraged by the situation as Jews are around the world. Israel must import the outrage, and I for one, am truly outraged.  I know that it’s flat-out wrong for an extremist and sometimes violent minority to dictate who gets to act as a Jew, who gets to “do” Jewish and who doesn’t. The Kotel is governed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, and has designated the Kotel an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, not a national monument.  Actions that offend the religious sensibilities of those in attendance are outlawed.  Women of the Wall is trying to dismantle the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which has ruled the Kotel with an iron, ultra-Orthodox hand, and re-convene it with voices from all Jews who wish to pray at this most profound and spiritual site.  This is not just speaking truth to power, this is calling out the ultra-Orthodox as no longer entitled to the “power” they wield, calling them out on immoral behavior.  I am not equating these men with Sodom and Gemorrah, but they are acting in a way wholly incompatible with Jewish values and sensibilities.  They have been given so much influence over the site that even the Kotel police think it’s acceptable to treat someone in such a shocking manner.

The truth is Anat is not Abraham; we all are.  We all must speak out against the unspeakable.  How?  Listen and then share Fran Gordon Naomi Less’ new song, “Sh’ma Israel”.  Support Women of the Wall and IRAC, the Israel Religious Action Center, so they can continue their work on behalf of all Jews who feel that no one can tell you how to be Jewish. No one can tell you you’re not “Jewish enough” to act as a Jew in Israel, of all places.

When Abraham became outraged at God’s own plan, and said, “Shma, LISTEN!”   God listened.   Are you listening to those who say it now?

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