Sunday, September 01, 2013

Anat retentive: A Selihot special

A guest post by Y. Bloch

I wish to speak to you today about a disorder which has been prevalent in Israel and the worldwide Jewish community for some time, but has really hit epidemic proportions in the last six months.
It's called Anat retentiveness. It's serious, but there is a cure.

What is Anat retentiveness? Well, Sigmund Freud coined the term "anal retentiveness" for those who, to their detriment, are so obsessed with picayune details that it annoys others. Freud thought it was ultimately about baby poop, but that's been largely discarded, except of course for making diaper bombs to toss at women who come, with ritual objects usually monopolized by men, to pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall.

This brings us to the similarly-named Anat retentiveness. In this condition, one is overly obsessed, to one's own detriment and the annoyance of others, with the picayune details of one person, namely Anat Hoffman, whose day job is executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, "the public and legal advocacy arm of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism." Progressive, here in Israel, equals Reform. Don't get me started on how confusing the term "Masorati" is.

However, for our purposes, what is more important is her role as chairwoman of Women of the Wall, which will shortly celebrate its 25th anniversary. It is WOW, who are a) a group of women who seek to b) pray at the Western Wall (who'da thunk it?), who have grabbed headlines over the summer since a Jerusalem District Court ruling allowed them to pray as they want at their monthly prayers, namely with Torah scrolls, phylacteries (tefillin) and tallitot (that's an English word now, look it up). Thousands have mobilized to block them from doing exactly that in person, and WOW's detractors on the Internet are legion. And far too many of them are Anat retentive.

How do you know if your loved one suffers from this condition? Here are some telltale signs:
  1. Does your loved one clutch a yellowed clipping from the South Florida Sun Sentinel (Broward County's news follower!) to his or her bosom, murmuring about Anat Hoffman's "plan" to limit men's-only access to the Kotel?
  2. Does your loved one obsessively watch 8 seconds of videotape from an Israeli news show in which Anat Hoffman speaks of a future vision of the Wall without a mehitza (partition) between the sexes?
  3. Does your loved one give the title "Anat Hoffman is No X" to the response to a post about WOW which never mentions Anat?
  4. Does your loved one speak patronizingly about "relat[ing] to the struggles of the individuals who participate and support Women of the Wall’s (WoW‘s) prayer protests"? Or caption a photo of WOW saying Shema as "protest at the Western Wall"?
  5. Does your loved one express puzzlement that the Conservative accept a mixed-prayer area at the Kotel-proximate Robinson's Arch, but Anat Hoffman, as WOW's chairwoman, has rejected it?
  6. Does your loved one stay up all night watching a BBC interview in which Anat Hoffman admits that she is <gasp> REFORM?
Now, of course Anat is Reform, and she works for a Reform organization, IRAC. But as chairwoman of WOW, she represents a nondenominational volunteer group which has Reform, Conservative and Orthodox members, some of whom arrive at the Kotel in tallit and/ or tefillin, some of whom do not. Anat retentive sufferers have referred to her as the elected president of WOW, which is both wrong and ludicrous, but assume that she were: are Americans now 50% black because their elected president is?
The idea that nondenominational groups must be represented by nondenominational Jews hits close to home for me because my father is an Orthodox rabbi, with his own synagogue, whose day job is at the nondenominational Board of Jewish Education (now called the Jewish Education Project). When he gives a sermon or lecture or interview, is he expressing the views of the BJE or its parent, UJA-Federation? No; nor is Anat Hoffman doing so for WOW when she speaks as a Reform Jew, nor is Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett (who happens to be Orthodox) expressing a "plan" to toss Muslims from the Temple Mount when he prays for the Temple to be rebuilt. One who thinks so is sadly suffering from Anat retentiveness.

Do not lose hope. There is a remedy, manufactured by God Himself. (Biggest Pharma?) The Talmud records (Kiddushin 30b), "I have created the Torah as an antidote." Study what Halakha has to say about women reading from a Torah scroll, laying tefillin, putting on a tallit. You'll be surprised.
Most importantly, let's turn to the dean of Jewish physicians, Dr. Moses Maimonides. He believes that such a malady can only truly be cured when one finds oneself in the exact same situation and refuses to repeat the error (Laws of Repentance 2:1).

So now is the time for Anat retentiveness sufferers! You can break the cycle. Women of the Wall will be holding a Selihot service tonight (Sunday). You can take this opportunity to get over it. Let those who come to pray at the gathering-place for all Jewry do so in peace.

As for me, I have to get to Selihot. Not at the Kotel, unfortunately, but I am heartened by the thought that those who will be there, including Women of the Wall, will be praying for all of us. Shavua tov!

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