There has been a bit of an uproar (maybe more than a bit) in the worldwide Jewish community over the Netanyahu administration’s recent decision to freeze plans to establish a mixed prayer space near the Western Wall (the Kotel) in Jerusalem. Liberal Jewish groups have long argued that the sacred site belongs to all Jews, not just those from the Orthodox world, and so should be open to various styles of worship, to include men and women praying together, and women leading prayer and reading from the Torah. A year and a half ago it seemed as if this long held goal was about be realized when an agreement was hammered out between Netanyahu’s government and various Jewish groups. Suspiciously (although perhaps not surprisingly) the agreement was never put into action, with various and sundry excuses offered as to why things were taking so long. Then last week the announcement was made – the idea was being ‘shelved.’
Netanyahu could care less about the Wall as religious artifact and sacred site. If anything, it signifies to him the sovereignty of the state. But he is beholden to the Orthodox members of his governing coalition, and so, pressed to mollify them, he is allowing the Kotel to essentially be held hostage. This political dynamic has been extensively analyzed over the last few days, and a quick Google search will turn up any number of articles describing it.
So I would like to focus for a moment on another issue, namely that by suggesting there is only one way to ‘do the Kotel’ the Orthodox community is in fact limiting God. Essentially what they are saying is this: God is all-knowing, all-powerful, the cosmic Creator of the entire universe, and yet God is also (you’ll please excuse the anthropomorphism) small minded. That in all of God’s vast power and knowledge God can only accept one narrow path of human behavior in terms of being worshipped.
This is irrational. It simply doesn’t make sense. God, in all of God’s vast power, can only accept one way of worship? Instead, doesn’t it make God greater to understand that God can accept many ways of worship? That there are a variety of pathways that will ultimately lead to God? Some are Jewish, some are not. Even within Judaism, there are multiple pathways. And if we stop to think about it, wouldn’t we imagine that God is ‘big’ enough to accept them all?
It is true, to a certain extent, and maybe even entirely, that God is inscrutable. I don’t pretend to know God’s will, and I struggle to understand what God demands of me, of my actions, of my day to day life. But I do know that the God I am in relationship with is מי שאמר והיה העולם – the One Who spoke and the world came into being. A vast force of power and mystery, open to all seekers. From the 145th Psalm: “God is near to all who call God, to all who call God in truth.”