Talpiyot’s Ha’uman 17 club was the setting for the capital’s first “learning
party” on Sunday night, when the Secular Yeshiva in Jerusalem nonprofit group
held two scholastic sessions and one ensuing dance party deejayed by none other
than rock star Berry Sakharof.
Some 300 people thronged the club, which
has become a symbol of secular nightlife in the holy city, for the group’s
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The initiative by three local young men – Nir Amit,
Ariel Levinson and Avishay Wohl – aims to create a spiritual and cultural
institution in Jerusalem that will supply the knowledge and tools to those
seeking to understand secular Judaism. The founders hope the place will be up
and running in Jerusalem by September 2011.
“It all started from study
evenings held in my home,” Wohl said. “Once every few months, we’d get together
and have a guest lecturer give a lesson on issues the secular yeshiva will be
dealing with, with a perspective that differs from that of Orthodox
These sessions helped Wohl and his cofounders realize the
sincere thirst among secular people to “conduct a systematic inquiry into their
Jewish identity.” Their yeshiva aims to provide an appropriate setting for this,
with four-month program targeting people in their 20s.
The yeshiva would
address issues pertaining not only to the teachings of secular Judaism’s
spiritual fathers, such as Yosef Haim Brenner, Micha Josef Berdyczewski and Ahad
Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg), but also to the Bible, Aggada (non-halachic texts in the
Talmud and Midrash), and Jewish and general philosophy, Wohl said. The Talmud
will also be part of the curriculum, but not from a legalistic
“Our rapport with Judaism is not with the religion as a
method,” explained Wohl, who also teaches at the Tel Aviv secular yeshiva
“We understand that within Jewish culture, there is a wealth of
inspiration and that we as Israelis, living here and now, need a bond to a
Wohl asserted that “Judaism doesn’t have to be
based on Halacha.”
“Now that we have a state, its law is a firm enough
framework,” he said. “But an Israeli youth should know about the Halacha, how it
A taste of what might be expected in the planned yeshiva was
offered in the lessons taught Sunday night by Levinson, whose session explored
Hanukka, Judaism and idolatry through segments by Ahad Ha’am and Berdyczewski.
He was followed by Hebrew literature expert Dr. Ariel Hirschfeld of the Hebrew
University, who conducted a secular reading of the Song of Songs. Sakharof then
took to the turntables to play the music for the dance party that
Both Hirschfeld and Sakharof are an active part of the Jewish
renaissance in secular arts and culture.
Besides the study curriculum,
the yeshiva will have a “Jerusalem” orientation to it, including touring the
city, meeting its residents and volunteering to help those in need.
assumes the institution will mainly attract people from a secular background,
but says it is open to anyone who wants to know “what secular Judaism’s say
“Instead of going to the Chabad house in India for answers,
they can come to us,” he said.