After losing a vote, a man from one of the “religious parties” at the 2010 World Zionist Congress saw me wearing my kippah, came up to my seat, and shouted at me to “take it off, because “the way I voted, I didn’t deserve to wear it.” Instead of getting angry, I simply yelled back (it was a very loud room) the expression: “Derech Eretz Kadma LaTorah.” The expression, which comes from rabbinic literature, means “that kindness and common decency take precedence to Torah.” Given the way he was yelling at people like a vilde chaya, I thought he needed that reminder.
Today, we saw another clash at the Western Wall. Somewhat ironically, the purpose of the group’s visit to the Kotel was celebrate the ordination of four newly ordained Israeli reform rabbis who will teach kindness and decency to the Jewish people in Israel. The group, carrying a Torah scroll, was sprayed with mace. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the leader of the American Reform movement, according to Haaretz, was “roughed up.” According to Gilad Kariv, the Executive Director of the reform movement, the Torah scrolls themselves were “hit and punched by the guards.”
Is there any more troubling image than a Torah scroll, our tool for learning decency, being punched by an indecent human being? What does it mean when rabbis, carriers of that message of decency, are pushed to the ground?
I remain scared for the future of the Jewish state of Israel. For if we can no longer see our holiest site as a place of common decency, then I am afraid that the Torah there risks now becoming meaningless.