nachman shai 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ever since I made aliya six-and-a-half years ago, one of the Israeli slang
phrases that has bothered me most is “dati lite.” It’s a phrase many Israelis –
both secular and religious – use to describe Jews that have the “nerve” to try
to adapt to the modern world while adhering to the rules of Orthodoxy.
maybe it’s just a woman who keeps Shabbat and sometimes wears pants, or a man
who would dare walk into a bar while wearing a kippa. The exact definition is
unclear to me, and is probably just as unclear to those who have been using the
term to describe me ever since I “dared” to do national service in short
What is very clear is that calling someone’s religious
observance “lite” is derogatory; even when the person saying it is not
intentionally trying to be offensive.
The word “dati” means Orthodox, as
in one who keeps the rules of Judaism to some extent. “Lite” implies that
something is lacking, that it is “less serious,” meaning less religious. It’s a
term that disrespects the legitimate decision to function in the secular world
while following Halacha (Jewish law), which, of course, has many
Does my clothing, or the fact that I studied in co-ed
day schools growing up, mean that my belief in God and the Torah are any less
strong? Do they reflect how many mitzvot
(commandments) I keep, even if there
are Orthodox rabbis that have no problem with women who wear pants and learn
Talmud? Whose job is it to define what is more or less religious?
secular people, who seem to use the term as a shortcut for “he/she is religious
– but still cool.” Orthodox people who use “dati lite” to say “you’re
less religious than I am” are ill-equipped to decide, as well.
our sages taught that derech eretz kadma latorah
– respect comes before the
Torah. Jewish tradition says that being a good person is just as important, if
not more, as keeping every little detail.
That’s why, in my opinion,
anyone who would judge someone else’s religious observance, especially to that
person’s face, should be called “dati lite.” The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) man who
was arrested in Jerusalem for calling a secular woman a whore is also “dati
lite,” even if his appearance may indicate otherwise.
Clearly, even the
ultra-Orthodox make choices about which parts of Judaism to be more or less
strict about. Perhaps they, too, should be lumped in the “lite” category with
those who keep Shabbat and kashrut but (gasp!) like to dance with the opposite
Or maybe we should just remove the phrase “dati lite” from our
vocabulary, and stop trying to define people by the slightest nuances of their
As the Knesset reporter for The Jerusalem Post
, I have the
privilege of meeting Israelis from all walks of life. I try to see them and
report about them from a neutral, nonjudgmental point of view, and hope for the
same treatment in return.
In fact, during a recent interview with secular
MK Nachman Shai (Kadima), something happened that I’m sure he didn’t even
notice, but I found heartwarming.
At the end of our meeting, he asked if
it would be all right to shake my hand (it is), explaining that when he first
met religiously observant MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), she shook his hand, but
told him that in the future she would not do so for religious
Although Hotovely is more “visibly Orthodox” than I am, Shai
showed me enough respect to view me as an individual, and ask how I would like
to be treated. Anyone who jumps to call me or others “dati lite,” should think
twice before making assumptions and do the same.The writer is Knesset
affairs reporter for
The Jerusalem Post.