Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
A member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America once remarked to me that things would be going splendidly in our world were it not for our propensity to continually shoot ourselves in the foot. What took place at the Kosel on Rosh Chodesh Sivan provides a textbook example.
The enduring image of the Rosh Chodesh davening should have been of thousands upon thousands of religious girls and women davening and reciting Tehillim with intensity, their voices never rising above a whisper. Nowhere in today's world is such purity to be found as in a gathering of Jewish daughters praying or reciting Tehillim. Even before I reached the Kosel, the sight of so many seminary students brought tears to my eyes.
And the image broadcast worldwide should have been of the tiny Women of the Wall (WoW) group totally engulfed in the much larger group of religious women praying at the Kosel – numerically batul b'shishim.
The idea of filling the area directly in front of the Kosel and almost the entire Kosel Plaza with frum women and girls completely flummoxed WoW. When they first got wind of large numbers of women who would be at the Kosel, they were left to issuing a pathetic "invitation" to all their "sisters," including chareidi women, to join them at the Kosel for their monthly show, in an effort to spin the overwhelming presence of chareidi women.
When WoW leader Anat Hoffman arrived at the Kosel and saw the area in front of the Kosel entirely filled, her face registered astonishment. She and her group had no choice but to regroup in the Kosel Plaza.
Moreover, the Rosh Chodesh prayer gathering offered the media a number of interesting back stories. One was the remarkable consensus between the national religious and chareidi worlds over the issue of the sanctity of the Kosel. For once Israel's religious constellation was fully unified about the importance of the issue. The leading chareidi gedolim, beginning with Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, and the most prominent rabbonim in the national religious world all called for women and girls to go to the Kosel on Friday morning. And there were busloads of girls from national religious seminaries, along with those from chareidi seminaries.
Thus, on the very day on which Israeli encamped in at Sinai as one person with one heart –va'yichan sham Yisrael neged hahar – so did the religious community in Israel achieve a rare degree of unity.
Another remarkable aspect of the gathering of thousands of women was that the entire initiative came from two women, one of them only twenty-five years old, from the off-the-beaten path settlement of Kochav Yaakov. They decided to do something to counter WoW, after a Jerusalem district court ordered that WoW be allowed to worship as they like at the Kosel.
Just as Sarah Schenirer's Bais Yaakov movement could not have spread as rapidly as it did without the support of the Chofetz Chaim and the Imrei Emes of Ger, so the thousands of women and girls would not have shown up at the Kosel without the call of the gedolim. But the idea originated entirely with the women and they conducted the media campaign.
That this was first and foremost a women's initiative destroyed the image of downtrodden, subservient frum women, and WoW's narrative that they seek to liberate chareidi women from their shackles. So ingrained is the image of passive frum women that Ha'aretz reporter Judy Maltz called Ronit Peskin, one of the founders of WomenfortheWall, a liar, when the latter told her that her organization was behind the gathering.
UNFORTUNATELY, none of these images or stories made their way into the press coverage of the Rosh Chodesh davening due to the boorish behavior of a group of a few dozen young chareidi men. Had they been on the direct payroll of WoW, they could not possibly have done a more effective job on ensuring that the real story of what took place at the Kosel on Rosh Chodesh Sivan would not be heard.
Instead the media lumped together the thousands of religious women, who did nothing more than daven, with the hooligans under the rubric of "chareidi protesters," and twisted the explicit support of Rabbi Steinman and other gedolim for the women's gathering, into an endorsement of the wild behavior of a small group of young chareidi men.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Rabbi Steinman explicitly conditioned his approval for the women's prayer gathering on assurances that there would be no violence. The whole point was to contrast the quiet, sincere prayer of religious girls and women with the camera-seeking behavior of WoW.
When I arrived at the Kosel a little past 7:00 a.m., police had already pushed back most of the male protestors to the ramparts on the northern side of the Kotel Plaza, where they were periodically shouting and making it difficult to daven on the men's side of the mechitzah. Their main "achievement" at that point was drowning out the beautiful singing of Hallel from a number of minyanim on the men's side.
I was astounded to see the media cameras focused relentlessly on the small group on the ramparts and totally ignoring the presence of many thousands of women.
Rav Chaim Brisker famously said that there are two types of kannaim (zealots), and gave a moshol to distinguish. Both the housewife and the cat want the mice out of the house. But the housewife wishes they were never there in the first place, while the cat is delighted to have them for supper.
The group at the Kosel were kannaim of the "cat" variety, thoroughly enjoying the opportunity provided by WoW to let out their animal spirits. Their periodic shouting and later tossing of objects at WoW struck me as nothing so much as a plea for attention.
Perhaps they did not know that Rabbi Steinman had specifically demanded that any demonstrations be conducted without violence, but that will not exculpate them from the charge of gross stupidity. That their attacks on WoW would play into the latter's hands by turning them into victims should have been obvious to any sentient being.
Nor is gross stupidity a minor sin. As Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, writes in his commentary on the Al Cheit of Yom Kippur, the first sin is to be a fool.
The women were there at the direction of gedolei Yisrael. But whose direction were the rowdies following? When have gedolei Yisrael ever condoned violence?
Quite apart from serving as unwitting accomplices to WoW, the young men betrayed a certain gasus ruach.Anyone looking at the women's side of the Kosel entirely filled with women davening should have sensed that this was the most effective response to WoW, both in practical terms and, more importantly, klapei Shomayim. Anything that detracted from that gathering could only do harm.
Still, I have no confidence that if WomenfortheWall were to organize a similar gathering next month that the results would be any different. I'm afraid that unthinking loudmouths would reappear and once again act as if on cue from Anat Hoffman.
Is there nothing we can do to prevent our communal agenda from continually be kidnapped by those who answer to no authority?
This Scandal Has Legs
Unlike Benghazi, the IRS scandals involve no deaths. Also unlike Benghazi, where President Obama was AWOL while U.S. diplomats were under lethal attack, and his administration put out a knowingly dishonest account of what happened, nothing directly links him to the IRS scandal.
Yet the various IRS scandals will likely undermine President Obama's second term and his big government agenda far more than Benghazi. Few Americans imagine themselves as ambassadors in far away countries, but most deal with IRS and live in terror of it.
There are at least three IRS scandals at present. The IRS Inspector-General confirms that from late 2010 through 2012, the IRS subjected groups with names like "patriot" or "tea party" in their titles to heightened scrutiny in their applications for tax exempt status and none received that status. Groups with words like "progress" or "progressive" in their title received no such scrutiny.
Second, political opponents or critics of the Obama administration seemed to have been singled out for IRS audits. Frank VanderSloot, a million dollar donor to the Romney campaign, tarred on an Obama campaign website as a "wealthy individual" with a "less-than-reputable record," was subsequently subjected to two IRS audits and one by the Department of Labor in a four month period. None resulted in penalties, but they cost him $80,000 in fees.
A Catholic professor who criticized Obamacare's treatment of religious entities in the Wall Street Journal was interviewed by the IRS. Though she and her husband file joint returns and he is the primary breadwinner, he was not allowed to be present when she was questioned. The third scandal involves leaks from tax forms to pro-administration journalists designed to embarrass those whose information was leaked.
Similar patterns were also found in other government agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, waived Freedom of Information Act fees for 92% of requests by "green" groups. It denied 93% of such requests by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
As Kevin Williamson notes, the problem with the IRS is scarier and harder to correct than a mere rogue operation. The point is not that the President ordered these gross abuses of administrative discretion, but that he didn't need to, any more than universities have to tell department chair not to hire conservative scholars. They do so automatically.
Evolutionists, like Richard Dawkins, attribute to individual genes the agency to develop strategies for their own perpetuation. They should have no trouble believing that huge bureaucracies develop, without even having to communicate, strategies for protection from evil small government types.