The recitation of the priestly blessings by members of Women of the Wall (WoW) on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, in defiance of the ruling of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit banning them from doing so, reveals the true character of the group and demonstrates how right opponents have been to strenuously oppose them from the start.
Until now, a case, however attenuated, could have been made, that their activities were not explicitly proscribed by the Torah. But with respect to bircas hakohenim, the Torah states clearly: "Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Speak to Aharon and his sons, saying: So shall you bless the Children of Israel, . . . .'" (BaMidbar 6:22-23).
The power of the Kosel is twofold. It is the most powerful symbol of Jewish continuity, the last remnant connecting us to the glory of the Bais HaMikdash. And it has always served as the focal point of Jewish unity – the place where all manner of Jews have come to pour out their hearts to Hashem in supplication whenever the opportunity presented, and to which they have turned their hearts when access to the Kosel was denied.
Without halacha as a limiting principle for their activities, WoW would entirely vitiate both sources of power. In place of the Kosel as a symbol of Jewish continuity, WoW would turn it into a Hyde Part Corner for all that is avant-garde in Jewish ritual.
Women offering the priestly blessings is but one such avant-garde display; it would not be the last. Leah Shakdiel, an early WoW activist, envisioned the Kosel becoming a place where "different people dynamically evolve various forms of worship."
The unifying principle behind these evolving forms of worship is not the desire to come closer to Hashem – what, after all, does He know about how He may be approached? – but rather to create a provocation and stick a finger in the eye of all traditional Jews. Viewing a clip of the Rosh Chodesh event, I was struck by the number of participants snapping pictures during the recitation or standing around observing the proceedings from behind.
Rather than advancing Jewish unity, WoW would destroy it by turning the Kosel into a place of continual confrontation. And what is gained? A few photo-ops in the New York Times, with the subliminal message from the leadership of the heterodox movements to their membership that they are still relevant. The most recent PEW study of American Jewry, sadly, proves otherwise. Unaffiliated has long been the fastest-rising branch of non-Orthodox American Jewry.
EVEN ON ITS OWN TERMS, WoW's point is incoherent. Women reciting the priestly blessings is an assertion that in the "Judaism" WoW members seek to create women must be allowed to do anything men are allowed to do.
For starters, they misunderstand what a mitzvah is. Men are not allowed to don tefillin, for instance, they are commanded to do so every day. I would guess that the number of members of WoW who do so is nearly a null set.
But there is even a deeper incoherence. If any distinction between men and women is inherently illegitimate, then what is the basis for the distinction between kohein, levi, and Yisrael. Indeed the Reform movement has long since done away with any such invidious distinctions, and proclaimed that they do not seek the rebuilding of the Temple or the reinstitution of the so-called "sacrificial cult," where those distinctions would be most manifest.
And in the spirit of true egalitarianism, why not follow the breakdown of all barriers between Jews by doing away with the distinction between Jew and gentile as well. Approximately a quarter century ago, I asked one of the founders of WoW, whether she would consider a service at the Kosel by Jews for J beyond the pale. She could not answer. And the afore-mentioned Shakdiel explicitly imagined the Kosel as a place where "Jews and Moslems and Christians can pray to G-d."
But if all distinctions are removed, and there are no more koheinim, wherefore the "priestly blessings"?
Both Parties are Cracking Up
Donald Trump's ascendancy has focused more attention on the crack-up of the Republican Party. As Jay Nordlinger lamented in National Review, the Republicans picked an odd time to commit suicide. The party currently holds 31 governorships and both legislative houses in over half the states, controls the U.S. Senate and boasts the highest number of representatives in Congress in nearly a century.
But the Republican crack-up can no longer obscure a parallel one in the Democratic Party, one which will be particularly evident if Hillary Clinton finds a way to lose to Trump – a result that is no longer inconceivable. Though many of the seventeen original Republican contenders were on vanity trips, the candidates included at least four governors or former governors who could claim major achievements in their states, and two youthful senators of impressive intellectual and oratorical skills, if few national accomplishments. The Democratic field quickly winnowed to Hillary Clinton, who is ever adding to the tarnish of a quarter century of scandals, and the septuagenarian socialist Bernie Sanders.
The Democratic malaise, however, goes far deeper than a paucity of quality candidates at the presidential level. The party is built on an uneasy alliance of groups who have little in common. Thomas Frank takes aim in his latest book Listen, Liberals Whatever Happened to the Party of the People at the party's dominant group drawn from the "professional-managerial class" of lawyers, doctors, professors scientists, programmers, even investment bankers," with their sacred cows of urban bike paths, microfinance, climate change, the Clinton Foundation, and well-meaning billionaires. That is a class that has little concern with income inequality, which it views as the natural order of things.
Frank argues that by abandoning FDR's traditional commitment to the working class, the Democratic Party has given rise to Trump and perhaps sown the seeds of its own destruction. Though promising many times in his eight years of office that he is about to pivot to the issue of jobs, President Obama has never done so, and rates of work force participation have continued to decline.
Last Friday's edicts from Departments of Justice and Education to every local school board in America dictating that their bathrooms and locker rooms must henceforth accommodate the gender identification of any student or face the potential cut-off of federal funding are an example of the dominance of the Democratic Party's agenda by limousine liberals. The one-time working class base is far more concerned with its economic future than yet a new political correctness issue of direct relevance to .3% of the population.
The move constitutes an unprecedented intervention of the federal government into elementary and high school education, areas traditionally the province of local school boards, without any plausible trace of legislative mandate.
Like so many of Obama's attempts to rule by administrative diktat, this one will probably not survive judicial scrutiny. It's primary purpose is to divert attention from the issues of primary concern to voters, such as, where will the jobs of the future come from for those who are not "well-graduated" and where will citizens derive their sense of self-worth as their contribution to their own sustenance diminishes. That is an issue, along with unfunded government pension commitments in the trillions of dollars, which no Democratic politician addresses because to do so honestly would make it harder to demagogue entitlement reformers in the Republican Party.
In the foreign policy field, various news agencies have reported that the Obama administration is preparing, in conjunction with the Quartet, a very critical report on Israeli settlement activities and intends to ratchet up pressure on Israelis and Palestinians to return to the bargaining table. If they do not, the U.S. is reportedly contemplating tabling a Security Council resolution outlining a final status agreement.
Like its attention to transgender bathrooms, there is something vaguely obsessive about the administration's focus on Israel, the one island of relative stability in the region, even as it has sat on the sidelines for four years as 450,000 human beings were slaughtered in Syria, another four million displaced from their homes, and Europe inundated with hundreds of thousands of refugees it cannot possibly absorb. After Arab Spring, the administration does not even have the feeble argument once trotted out that the Palestinian-Israel conflict holds the key to the chronic instability of the Middle East.
Still there is a constituency for undermining the American-Israeli alliance among the Democratic Party's university constituency. Rewriting the American foreign policy narrative has been the principle goal of the president and his speechwriters from the get go, as former chief speechwriter Jon Favreau told the New York Times David Samuels recently. Rapprochment with Iran and hostility to Israel have been two prongs of the new narrative.
Foreign policy has been part of the permanent campaign run by Obama over the last eight years. David Axelrod, Obama's former chief political strategist, told Samuels, "[T]hey've approached these major policy challenges as campaign challenges, and they've run campaigns, and those campaigns have been very sophisticated."
But when all policy is filtered through the lens of politics and the need to win the next presidential election major problems go unaddressed. The Democratic Party's national campaigns depend on adding a cobbled coalition of aggrieved victim groups to their new managerial base. Former Obama advisor Van Jones recently admitted that the Democrats need 92% of the black vote in 2016 to retain the White House.
That should be a problem given that no group has fared worse in the Obama economy than blacks. But the truth is that the more dependent blacks become on the government the more beholden to Democratic governance. Thus Democratic political strategy will be based on riling up black victimhood grievances via Black Lives Matter (BLM) rather than improving blacks' economic standing or the safety of black neighborhoods. (BLM makes those neighborhoods less safe.)
Within the Republican Party, there is a cadre of thinkers that has been engaged in market-based solutions for all those left behind as the world transitions to a new information-based economy, including many Trump voters. Ironically, however, those thinkers are the most hostile to Trump personally because of his authoritarian tenor. They refuse to sign on for Trump for the sake of the Grand Old Party. For them, principles take precedence over the Republican Party. Winning elections isn't everything.
Now ask yourself: When have you ever heard a prominent liberal say he or she cannot in good conscience support Hillary Clinton because of the way she wantonly endangered national security to shield her emails from scrutiny?