As Av approaches, and with it the Nine Days, we are drawn to the Kotel — in our souls, with our bodies or, for some, both. We recall destruction that arose from sinat chinam, baseless hatred, and we wonder, as is exclaimed in the Book of Eicha (Lamentations): “Eicha? How? How did hatred among our people become so rampant as to warrant destruction?”
We are mystified by the enmity of our forebears only because we don’t know the details, the points of view of those involved. In theory, hatred may seem baseless, gratuitous. In practice, when we are in the midst of a fight for our own and our people’s soul, fury that feels like hatred, and maybe is, is its own answer. It’s not at all bewildering.
So must it have been then. For the people of that era, the hatred was not baseless, at least not to them. It’s dangerous to see them as different from us today — all of us — whether the Women of the Wall taking our rightful place at the Kotel or those resisting our presence at the Kotel. My anger/hatred, the anger/hatred of those who oppose my prayer, may one day be looked upon historically also as sinat hinam.
I see the Rabbanut here in the State of Israel as willing to sacrifice the lives of our people on the altar of their authority, with decrees that threaten the hearts, souls and bodies of women and others at the Kotel — as well as by codifying their version of halakha into narrow, oppressive civil laws that further imprison us “Between the Straits.” They see me as a threat to the true Judaism — as deadly to the soul and future of our people as any external enemy.
Let’s acknowledge our susceptibility to the failures of those we see as wantonly contemptuous. Because if we can’t see where the sinat hinam lives in us, then we cannot know when it is alive in our actions and in our society.
“Eicha?” we must ask. How? But this time not “How did this happen?” but “ How will we make room for God to dwell among us all?” JN
Rabbi Susan Silverman, a Women of the Wall board member, is the founding director of Second Nurture: Every Child Deserves a Family — and a Community, which partners with synagogues to help them prioritize and support foster care and adoption of waiting children among their membership. She is the author, most recently, of “Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World.” She lives in Jersusalem.