Our Judaism

Israelis are exploring other aspects of Judaism.

By
May 17, 2010 21:57
3 minute read.
An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man carries a prayer stan

kotel western wall praying great 512 ap. (photo credit: AP)

As in previous years, a wide range of organizations are pitching various forms of Jewish expression this Shavuot as an extension of their year-round activities.

Tel Aviv, often mistakenly stereotyped as a bastion of militant secularism, has become, in recent years, a breeding ground for diverse, multilingual Jewish expression and dynamic, experimental spiritual projects. Orthodox organizations such as the religious Zionist Rosh Yehudi and the neo-hassidic Breslav and Chabad movements will provide all-night Torah study. Tzohar, an organization of modern Orthodox rabbis, will organize panels of rabbis, journalists, academics and celebrities in three different locations in Tel Aviv around the theme of Shavuot. Even TV personality and publicist Yair Lapid, who is rumored to be in the process of creating a new secular/liberal political party with an anti-haredi agenda, will participate. Tzohar’s events will end with singing and a sunrise megilla reading on Frishman Beach followed by Shaharit prayers.

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Non-Orthodox mainstays such as the Reform Movement’s Beit Daniel – which annually draws hundreds, often more than 1,000, participants to its all-night Shavuot learning sessions in English and Hebrew – will teach classic and esoteric Jewish texts and will offer seaside song (being so close to the Mediterranean is apparently irresistible) played by Jewish and Arab musicians. Rumor has it that Havruta, a community of Orthodox homosexual men, is also planning an event.

Unaffiliated organizations will market their unique brand of Judaism as well. The Secular Yeshiva, located near the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, will be the venue for a meeting between Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture, and Pishka, a club and study group of Russian-speaking youths. Those uninterested in lectures can sit with others of like mind in an improvised bar and discuss a subject touching on Jewish identity, conveniently written on a pieces of paper attached to beers served throughout the night. Alma Home for Hebrew Culture will teach its version of the Jewish experience at the Tel Aviv Museum.

AND THIS is by no means an exhaustive list. In short, Tel Aviv has become a veritable hotbed of distinctively Jewish activity thanks to a highly competitive, free market of religious expression that has for some time now eclipsed the state-funded activities provided by the strictly Orthodox and bureaucratically stuffy Chief Rabbinate (though it should be noted that many Tzohar rabbis are religiously innovative despite being members of the rabbinate).

A real thirst for Jewish content presented in an interesting and relevant way seems to be fueling the widespread adherence to the Kabbalistic custom, developed in Safed in the 16th century, to stay up all night learning. This thirst is not being quenched by the Chief Rabbinate, though this is its primary mandate.

Similarly, the rabbinate’s lack of strong leadership and failure to take a stand against extremist haredi elements – another of its mandates – was a key factor in precipitating the Barzilai Hospital spectacle. Were it not for the likes of the organizations listed here operating in Tel Aviv, the secular Israeli public might receive the mistaken impression that the extremist haredi elements who took to the streets of Jerusalem this week, and those who endangered lives when grappling with armed police in Ashkelon to protect what are almost certainly pagan corpses, are the “true representatives” of Judaism.

A further aggravation is the possibility, recently raised by Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea, that the Badatz kosher supervision apparatus – the nation’s most respected, well-run, lucrative and ubiquitous, managed by the rabidly anti-Zionist Eda Haredit – might be defraying the costs of these demonstrations.

AS WE gather to celebrate Shavuot, we are reminded of a teaching handed down to us by the rabbis. The book of Numbers, which tells the story of the Jewish people’s trek through the desert, is always read before Shavuot, a holiday that, at least since shortly after the destruction of the Temple, has been tied to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

This teaches us an important lesson: Just as the desert does not belong to anyone, so, too, the Torah is not the personal property of anyone – not the Chief Rabbinate, not the Eda Haredit, not any other group.

More and more Israelis are realizing that while some adherents to “Judaism” choose to express their loyalty in distorted ways – including by preferring the dead to the living – there are other aspects of Judaism that are positive, relevant and meaningful.


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