Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cheshvan or Marcheshvan?

I really liked this post by On the Main Line. It talks about whether our current month is Cheshvan or Marcheshvan. Here is a quote:

It happened again. Sure enough, the hazzan in shul announced the coming of the
new month in this way: ... ראש חודש חשוון יהיה ביום הראשון. I was half expecting it, actually. The issue? חשוון, rather than the actual name of the month, מרחשוון... Put plainly, the issue concerns the 'fact' that the name of the eighth month on the Hebrew calendar is Marheshvan, while many people call it instead Heshvan or think that it is really two words, Mar Heshvan ...it is clear that the month Marheshvan comes from the Akkadian Varahshamnu. What is that month's etymology? It seems that is is a compound of two words ורח שמנה, its Hebrew equivalent nothing more than ירח שמנה, the eighth month.

He also refers to an article by Ari Zevitovsky on the topic.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Rav Ovadia on Mixed Seating at Weddings

NRG today report a Pesak Halakha by Rav Ovadia Yoseph that is full of common sense.
Rav Ovadia said that if having seperate seating at a wedding will cause family friction, then there is no problem with having mixed seating! He appreciates the fact that frequently families prefer to sit together at a simcha. And of course Rav Ovadia understands that Shalom Bayit is more important than a mechitza in these circumstances. It is just sad that piskei halakha on public policy issues that reflect common sense, sensitivity and halakhic expertise, seem so rare!

For more on the topic see here. To the best of my knowledge, Eli Clark wrote a scholarly article about this in the Journal of Halakha and Contemporary Society some years back.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Nature Tuned In To Religion

Tonight we began to say VeTEn Tal Umattar here in Israel. Well, it's been raining all day! Considering the fact that we frequently pray [1]"טרם יקראו ואני אענה" God seems to have pre-empted our prayers this year. I guess we can thank Him with a resounding Baruch Hashem!

But what I would like to talk about is simply the manner in which the tempo of the seasons here in Israel so matches our Jewish sources and our religious rituals. The rain is a wonderful example. The day after we recited the Geshem prayers, it rained. Now, as we being VeTen Tal Umattar, we have floods of rain. Remember – in Israel there is NO RAIN over the summer. None at all. And yet, the rainy season fits perfectly where it is supposed to. (Yes! I know that sometimes we are not so fortunate. But that is precisely the point. When no rain appears for a few weeks after Sukkot, we add prayers, we fast.)

Likewise with Sukkot. In England I remember the freezing cold of the Sukka. Sitting shivering as we ate in our coats! Here in Israel, it is a pleasure to be in the Sukka. And yet, just like the Sources tell us, it is nice to sit in the Sukka, but you do feel the tinge of cold; you feel that you are at the threshold of the end of summer. The autumn is coming.
Here Chag HaAviv is truly the Springtime!

I sometimes ask my students why Pomegranates are Rosh Hashanna food, and they quote me the idea that it contains 613 seeds. And then I just take them into my garden and they realise that pomegranates and figs ripen in Eretz Yisrael at this time of year! The Jewish calendar fits here in Ertz Yisrael! This is the place that the "script" of Judaism was written for!

And this reminds me of a conversation that I had some years back with a friend of mine who is a tour guide. I had got stuck at an airport in Europe, and searched high and low for food with a hechsher but couldn't find anything. So I bought some fruit. An apple and an orange were quite fine. (even though they were astronomically priced!) So I commented that here in Israel one can almost automatically buy processed/packaged/manufatured food because it always has a hechsher. But that with fruits and vegetables, we have the biggest problems due to Teruma and Maaser, Shmitta etc.

And she responded; "Well, of course!"

"What is so obvious?" Is asked?

"Here in Israel, we are connected to the soil, the land," she explained, "and so, that which is closer to the land has greater issues. In Chutz Laaretz we are detached from the land – the fruits and vegetables prove no problem at all. The problem is in society – packaging and processing – and when the society is not Jewish, that is what you have to worry about."

That certainly is a thought-provoking perspective.

Maybe in this week of Lech Lecha, we can think about the idea that our religion has a primal connection with this land and that quite possibly this land is truly the place where one may "find" God!

[1] From Yishayahu 65:24 but we quote it in Anneynu.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Is Religion the Cause of World Violence?

John Lennon certainly thought it was! What do you think? If we eradicated religious conflict would there be wars in the world?

Here Rabbi Sacks addresses the problem. (Thanks Hirhurim)

Downgrading Noah

"Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; Noah walked with G-d."
(Bereshit 6:9)

In his famous opening comment to parashat Noach, Rashi suggests that possibly Noach was not so great after all. You see, Noah's "righteousness" is balanced or negated by the qualifier: "in his generation." He was a Tzaddik only relative to the sinners of his generation, but had he lived in the era of Avraham, he would have been considered "nothing" of significance.

This is one of a series of Midrashim (Rashi quotes Midrash Rabba 30:9) that denigrate Noah, demoting him from full Tzaddik status to a lower level. Some contrast him with Abraham and others with Moshe:

“R. Berechia said: Moshe is more special than Noach. Noach moved from the status of “a righteous man” (6,9) to “a man of the earth”(9,20), whereas Moshe began as an “Egyptian man”(Ex 2:19) and progressed to become “A man of God”(Deut 33:1)...” Bereshit Rabba 36:3

For many years I was bothered by this. The Torah text says he was a tzaddik. Why can we not follow the text? If you were the most virtuous person in your generation, that would be quite something. why don't Chazal adopt a more generous attitude towards Noach.

Rabbi Dr. Irving Jacobs from Jews’ College, London once gave a historical explanation for this. He explained that these midrashim emerge from the era of early struggle between Christianity and Judaism, in the formative years of Christianity when it was breaking away from Judasim and trying to justify itself vis a vis Judaism.

The Christians broke from traditional Judaism when Paul rejected Mitzvot Ma’asiyot - Halakha. They abandoned the performance of circumcision and kashrut etc. To support their case, they sought out Biblical models - tzaddikim - who were chosen by God despite their NOT keeping Torah MiSinai. Noach was an ideal candidate. He is given the title by the Torah of “Tzaddik” despite the fact that we see no trace of Mitzvot; an ideal role model! They looked to Noach as a justification of their new religion.

How did the Rabbis respond to this “reading” of Noach as a person? In their derashot given in the shuls of Tzippori and Caesarea, and Tiberias the Rabbis responded with a "new reading." If Noach was a Tzaddik, he was a minor one. He could not even approach the level of a Moshe or an Avraham. It was a response to the mood of the age.

Because the Christians venerated Noach, the Rabbis responded by denigrating him, demoting him.

(And methodologically this is a great example of the manner in which historic situations - current events - may create a new p'shat, a new reading, in the passuk. This Rashi is a legitimate reading - to see "in his generation" as regulating and constricting the scope of the appellation "Tzaddik - and yet possibly it was a new way of thinking as Rabbis saw the Christians attach enormous prestige to Noach, they found themselves adopting a different understanding of the text. Maybe this was not even overtly polemical but more subconscious. I think this is a great example of what the Rashbam calls הפשט המתחדש בכל יום.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Kayin and Hevel

I think this short poem by Yehudah Amichai is thought-provoking and refreshing. Read it carefully! It comes from the book פתוח סגור פתוח which has many poems on Biblical and "Jewish" themes. Feel free to add your own commentary in the "comments" section. I will add my own thoughts on this poem in the course of the week.

:קין והבל, אי-הבנה של אהבה
קין רק רצה לחבק אותו חזק
.וחנק אותו, שניהם לא הבינו
Feel free! The (virtual) floor is open!
UPDATE: I said that I'd add some comments so here goes...
I believe that this poem is not the peshat. Despite the repeated use of the word אח - brother - in the verse. The term "brother" is used repeatedly not to indicate love and warm feelings but rather to drive home the moral horror that a person can concieve of killing his brother - even a brother to whom a person feels natural emotions of love, responsibility, loyalty and kinship. (And through this, we should realise that any human being is a brother.) This is about accentuating the terrible nature of this crime.
And yet, I like Yehuda Amichai's poem because it raises situations in life in which we think we are embracing someone in love, and yet we suffocate them. The classic stereotype of this (I think it is a stereotype but a stereotype comes to warn us that we might do this to a lesser extenet) is the parent who "loves" his child so much that he dominates the child, planning every element of their lives because "father knows best" figuratively enveloping them in a bearhug, overpowering the child with imposed plans and dreams, and thereby choking and strangling the child. That parent loves his child to death, as he enforces how he must learn a musical instrument and study for school and do this and that and attend that university and engage in that career and marry that person. Today, we see less of this but there are still people like this.
I think about this as well when I hear Charedi groups talk about imposing Shabbat laws on secular society because "it will be good for them too." Maybe the religious think that it will be good for the secular, but do the secular feel that it enhances their lives? Maybe it suffocates them? And there are many other examples.
Whenever we impose something on someone else because we "know" how good it will be for them, we should always check how they are breathing!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bereshit in (amazing) Pictures

See this link for Parashat Bereshit in Pictures!

Parashat Bereshit

Bereshit Chapter 1 is characterised by a mood of strict obedience and total surrender before the divine word, the command of the Almighty.

"By the word of God the heavens were created and by the spirit of his mouth all
its hosts ... He spoke and they came into being, he issued a command and they
stood." (Tehillim 33).

Reading the chapter we witness an immediate response to each creative statement : "And the Lord said, let there be light ... and there was light" (Bereshit 1:3) God creates the world by the "ten utterances" (see Avot Ch.5). through which He commands his world to come into being, and each order is directly followed by it's execution. An atmosphere of submission permeates the chapter. It is its hallmark and theme. God is the all-powerful creator, commanding and demanding by his very will. And the world responds as an obedient servant.

But yet, despite this atmosphere of God's mastery and His absolute control over the world, the Midrash rather surprisingly raises a completely contrasting image:

1:11 “etz pri - God intended (and commanded) that the wood of the
trees would taste like their fruit (etz pri). But it did not do this. Instead,
'The earth brought forth trees that bore fruit (etz oseh pri) and not trees that
were fruit (etz pri). Because of this, when Adam was cursed for his sin, the
earth was punished too ... "

In place of an inanimate world, without independent will, responding to the command and desire of the architect of all creation, the Midrash prefers to talk of a world which springs into life resonating with an identity and will all of it’s own. The Midrash portrays the creation as if it were independent of G-d or even more extreme, that the world is rebelliously defiant of God's will!

Read more here

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Simchat Torah. Where is the Joy?

Simchat Torah is not an easy day. I think that there are few people who feel an innate rush of energy that propels them to dance endlessly with the Torah. It is for this reason that people stand at the side and talk, people resort to the Kiddush option; many people only truly participate in the dancing to give their kids an authentic Simchat Torah experience. But how many participants are rejoicing with the Torah, celebrating its completion, revelling in the beautiful synergy of Torah and the Jewish people?

I say this even in learned and commited communities. Somehow, it isn't always easy to spontaneously generate genuine feeings of elation in regards to Torah.

On Simchat Torah, I was in shul, and I approached a learned friend who was sitting there with his Gemara learning as all the hakafot were going on around. He looked up and he said; "lots of people are dancing with the Torah, but is anyone studying Torah today?" And I responded, "But maybe today is about the dancing and NOT the learning of Torah!" In other words, there is a time to understand Toah but there is also a time to rejoice in the special gift that God has given us.

This all reminded me about an experience I had in London about 20 years ago. I visted a chassidish shteibel on Simchat Torah. At a certain point in the dancing, the Rebbe instructed everyone to put the Sifrei Torah down. and then he announced: "Everyone go to the bookshelf! Get a Gemara! Pick the massechta that you are learning!" And everyone grabbed a Gemara and began to dance holding their Gemaras in the air, dancing. The atmosphere was electrifying. The mood suddenly accelarated and elevated many degrees. The energy surged and somehow the book of the Gemara connected with the people there in a deeper way than even the Sefer Torah!

Why? Why should the moment in which the Gemara is held be more powerful than the Sefer Torah? After all the Sefer Torah is the ultimate source of holiness. But maybe the Gemara has more power because we have studied it, we have grappled with its words, its phrases. we have struggled with the Rishonim and Achronim. We have forged a relationship; we have made a kinyan HaTorah. Somehow the Sefer Torah is a symbol, but it is so sacrosanct, so holy, that it is in a way distant. It is beyond relationship, beyond intimacy. It stands at a distance; majestic, sacred. And yes, we chant its words, but how often do we get an Aliya? How frequently do we engage with the object that is a Sefer Torah?

But the book that I learn every day: My Daf Yomi, my Chumash Rashi - That I could dance with! It nourishes me on a daily basis; it provided the lifeblood of my Judaism, it challenges and excites, informs and inspires, it is my companion, my partner in conversation, my Chavruta. I have a relationship with it.

I am not referring to the difference between Torah Shebal Peh and Torah Shebichtav but rather the development of emotional ties that we forge in relation to objects, the sentimental, emotional, and sometimes nostalgic feelings that can be evoked by a particular object in which a physical item encapsulates a whole world of feelings.

And so, this is what I began thinking about this Simchat Torah. Maybe if we were dancing with our Gemaras, we could dance with greater fervour. Possibly it isn't that we have no Simcha in our connection with Torah, but rather that the Sefer Torah specifically fails to generate the elation that we might feel!

Maybe my friend should have danced with his Gemara instead of studying it!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Shminni Atzeret: Honeymoon With God

When we look in the Torah, we have good reason to assume that Sh'minni Atzeret is a part of chag Hassukot. After all, it is described as the "eighth day" of Sukkot. In addition, just as Pesach is a 7 day festival with a yom-tov at its beginning and end, similarly it would seem that sukkot - although 8 days long - also begins with a day of yom-tov (issur melacha) and ends in the same way. So it should be clear that Shminni Atzeret is simply an integrated part of chag haSukkot and will lack its own independent identity.

But certain questions remain.

1. What is "Atzeret"? Why does this day have a special title?
(If we compare this 8th day to the final day of Pesach, the 7th day of Pesach has no special title. Interestingly however, Chazal did give Shavuot the name of "Atzeret" - a name not used in Chumash for Shavuot - and Chazal were thereby declaring Shavuot as the "eighth day" of Pesach. Interesting!)

2. If you compare the Korbanot of Sukkot to Shminni Atzeret, you notice that Shmini Atzeret departs from the pattern of Sukkot . During Sukkot we offer Parim - oxen - in a decreasing scale from 13 to 7. Sh'minni Azeret does not continue the pattern, but instead has just a single Ox. (also 7 as opposed to 14 sheep.) Is this significant? It certainly indicates to us that Shminni Atzeret is distinct in some way.

Chazal distinguish a number of details in which Shminni Atzeret forms its own distinct chag (Found in Maechet Sukka 48a):
1. Birkhat She'hecheyanu
2. No Sukka
3. A different name
4. Distinct Korban
5. The song in the Beit Hamikdash was different. (Lamenatzeach al Hashminit!)
6. The ordering of the Kohanim in the mikdash was organised anew for this day and was not incorporated in the Sukkot order of things
(For more detail, see Rav S.Y. Zevin in his wonderful work Hamoadim Bahalacha.)

So to what extent is Sh'minni Atzeret part of Sukkot and to what extent is it an independent chag?


There is a certain "nafka mina" (practical consequence of a theoretical argument) here which has central importance regarding our nusach hatefilla (prayer text). This is an argument regarding the proper title of this chag in our tefilla.

One opinion calls it "shminni chag h'atzeret hazeh". This indicates that Sh'minni Atzeret has its own independent status of chag.

But the second "nusach" reads "shminni atzeret hachag hazeh" ; i.e. The eighth day - end of this (sukkot) festival. Thus sh'minni atzeret is subsidiary to Sukkot and thereby denied its own standing as a chag.


A resolution to this ancient problem is beyond my capability. The likelihood is that Sh'minni Atzeret contains certain independent element, and also is somehow connected and similar to Chag HaSukkot. However, let us look at Rashi's interpretation of the term "Atzeret" and we will see something rather interesting in Rashi's commentary.

"Atzeret: I have stopped you (from leaving and kept you) with me. It is comparable to a king who invited all his children to a banquet. The banquet continued for a number of days. When the time came for everyone to go home, the king said, 'my special child, I am making a special request for you to stay with me for a little more time. It is difficult for me to part from you.' " (Rashi in Vayikra 23)

"...The aggadic explanation: All the days of the (Sukkot) festival, they offered sacrifices in the name of the seventy nations of the world. They wished to go, God said to them, 'Please stay so that I can enjoy you!'" (Rashi on Bamidbar)

The imagery here of the party for the world and then an intimate get-together with Am Yisrael is taken from the korbanot of Sukkot. During Sukkot we sacrifice 70 oxen in total. On Sheminni Atzeret only one ox is offered. The number 70 is symbolic of the world community (70 nations). What might the single ox symbolise if not the Jewish nation - "a people who dwell alone and will not be counted amongst the nations." Indeed, Sukkot is portrayed by the prophet Zechariah (See the haftara for 1st day Sukkot - Zechariah Ch.14) as the time when in the future, all nations will arrive in Jerusalem to salute God and recognise Him as the Master of the Universe.

But the Midrashim are different. In the Vayikra quote, the banquet which Am Yisrael partcipate in is a CONTINUATION of the earlier party. It is not anew event with any distinct features. Israel simply stays an extra day because God doesn't want them to leave.

In Bamidbar however, Rashi's Midrash portrays Sheminni Atzeret as a DISTINCT and INDEPENDENT chag. Whereas Sukkot is a universal holiday according to this midrash, Sheminni Atzeret is chosen as a day fo intimacy between God and Israel. It is particularistic in nature, It is not a continuation of what came before but rather, a radical departure from the previous atmosphere. It is a small nuance in the Midrashim which distinguish between Shminni Atzeret as an independent event or rather, the tail-end of Sukkot.


If sh'mmini atzeret does have its own independent character, what is that character?

One option might follow Rashi's midrash and just see this day as a day of connection between God and Israel; a celebration of Israel's chosen-ness and legacy. In that case, Simchat Torah is certainly appropriately timed in that we celebrate the covenant between ourselves and God.

But I did find one commentator who focuses upon a particular focus of shminni atzeret.

The Targum Yonatan ben Uziel (Vayikra 23) says: "It shall be a gathering for you to pray for rain before God on the eighth day." Here, we see that Sh'minni Atzeret takes in a more sombre tone. In contrast to the rejoicing of Sukkot, Yonatan ben Uziel sees Shminni Atzeret as a day of supplication for the winter rains. This clearly relates to our practice of Tefillat Geshem on Shminni Atzeret. It also explains why the korbanot of Shmini Atzeret match those of Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur for these days all share something in common; they are days of judgement and prayer for life and death. Rain which controls agriculture is a life and death issue.

One further thing. If we do follow R. Yonatan ben Uziel, there is a further conrast between Sukkot and Shminni Atzeret. Sukkot is the Chag HeAssif - the ingathering festival. The ingathering festival celebrates the successes of the past season. It looks at the crops stored away in the barn and expresses that satisfaction of a year of prosperity in the form of Hallel and thanksgiving to God. Chag Ha'Asif looks backwards at the year just ended.

But if Sheminni Atzeret is a day of prayer for rain, then Sheminni Atzeret is not looking BACK in time. It looks FORWARD in time, towards the year ahead, praying to God that the coming year will be one of prosperity.

Chag Sameach.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bumper Sticker For Yom Yov!

We all know that car bumper stickers are big news in Israel. (See the "sticker song" by novelist David Grossman and even Jewish commentaries on it!)

I chanced upon this bumper sticker this week. It interested me not simply because it comes from Mussaf! But most bumper stickers are a call to passers-by to identify, an attempt to shape popular opinion etc. This one is aimed at God Himself! A new audience for the bumper sticker messages.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Yoni Jesner z"l

Four years ago on Erev sukkot, myself and many hundreds of other mourners accompanied our beloved Yoni to his final resting place in the hills of Jerusalem as we attended the funeral of Yoni Jesner.

Yoni was a talmid at Gush, who was in Tel Aviv on Sukkot vacation. He was on a bus when a sucicide bomber blew himself up on the bus, and Yoni was hit by flying glass which killed him. Yoni was my student, if only for a brief time. He was impressive and instantly loveable. Yoni was an extraordinary individual, and every year we - a small group of family and friends -revisit his traumatic death as we congregate at a short Azkara at his graveside.

As we enter the festive atmosphere of Sukkot, there is no more suitable time than that to remember Yoni. Yoni was Simcha personified. He was filled with joy and he gave a smile and a warm feeling of appreciation and inspiration to all around him.

The Gemara in Masschet Sukka debates whether a Sukka is a דירת קבע or a דירת ארעי - a temporary dwelling, or a permanent dwelling. Well, clearly life is a דירת ארעי - we are here today and gone tomorrow; life is so fleeting, so fragile. Yoni's death demonstrates that. And yet, Yoni was such a presence, such a personality. In his short years he proved that we can make our lives a דירת קבע; we can create a permanent, lasting contribution. Yoni's life exemplified that!

Sukkot is zman simchateinu because it is a time to appreciate all the goodness that God has given us. Today, Ari, his brother spoke at the graveside of how Yoni tried to live his life making every moment meaningful. He should inspire us to do the same.

Here is something I wrote at the time of his death.

Chag Sameach!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

My Sukkot Shiur

In a sense, Sukkot thrusts us back to the natural world that we have so forgotten in our globalised high-tech age. We sit in the Sukka, surrounded by the natural greenery of the “s’chach”. We feel the night air above, the heat, the cold and occasionally the rain. As we make a bracha over the Arba’ah minim - that rather exotic assortment of branches, leaves and fruits - we find ourselves in a web of connectedness with nature. Indeed, a rendezvous with God's wonderful natural kingdom might just be a healthy balance to our hectic urban lives within the impervious brick walls of our homes and our sterile modern environment.

So, is Sukkot the festival that takes us back to nature? Is this what Sukkot is about? If so, what is the place of "nature" in the Jewish system of thinking?

Read more here:

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

" /a>

This week I have seen a number of blogs that refer to the atmosphere in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur. Some have depicted a party scene (here and here); others have depected a serene atmosphere (here and here.) But what comes through - even though clearly people widely and almost totally respect the day of Yom Kippur - is the vast differences in mood, in pulse and atmosphere that separate Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. People talk about the manner in which Tel Aviv is alienated from Judaism, but the sense that Yom Kippur is about anything other than prayer and fasting would seem to abound! (I should say that I am always impressed in the media/TV before Yom Kippur how there is a lot of attention to saying sorry and also to certain Resultions for the next year ... and that is great, but here I am talking about the mod of the city, the messages that the streets themselves transmit.)

On that note, here is a great song - probably my favourite of 5766. It's by Hadag Nachash, Israel's top rap band. Although I am not a rap fan, the words of this song speak volumes. (listen carefully.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

How We Ruin Our Kids!

My son came back from school the other day with a dilemma.

"Abba," he said, "I have a problem!"

"What is it?" I enquired.

"Well, you know we have a minyan every morning in school, don't you?"


"Well, on the wall is a poster that says: תפילה בלי כוונה - כגוף ללא נשמה. (In other words, "Prayer without concentration and internalisation is like a body without a soul.") And so, " he continued, "today I took the poster seriously. I really tried to have Kavanna when I said Kriyat Shema. But do you know what? It took me so long that by the time I finished, they were well into the Shmoneh Esreh! So, Abba , what should I do? Should I have Kavanna and miss davening with the Minyan, or should I daven with the minyan and ignore the poster?"

And there he is, asking this question with such innocence and sincerity, genuinely struggling with the dilemma. And I really wanted to cry. To cry, because his question was so pure, so sincere, so earnest, so fresh, so genuine. Because he is right! How can we daven half-heartedly in the way that we pray so often?

And of course the school minyan needs to daven at a cracking pace because its only a 40 minute period, and because some kids are bored etc. But here is a kid who takes the words that we write on the walls of our shuls seriously, and we are ruining his pure approach. He is totally willing to pour his energies into putting that flaming נשמה into the dormant body of the prayer-book. Do we have to make him jaded already? Or is that just preparing a child for the reality of life, of our rushed, half-mumbled prayer services?


More on Yom Kippur Datiim and Chilonim

For more on Yom Kippur Datiim and Chilonim, see Dr. Jeffrey Woolf and Adderabbi.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Yom Kippur Renewal in the Secular Kibbutz

An encouraging article from Haaretz.

"...in the past Yom Kippur had no particular significance on kibbutzim. "The important holidays were the ones with significant agricultural connotations," he explained, "but today the kibbutz is losing its spiritual 'religion of work' content. The holiday rituals are held more because of the need to celebrate and to be together than because of their spiritual content. At the same time there is a renewed interest in Judaism in the form of secular study forums, as there is throughout the country. Yom Kippur reflects that processes."

Read the article.

Earlier this year, Yair Sheleg published a series of articles (see here and here and here) on the new connections that secular Israelis are making with traditional Judaism. In an ideal world, I would like to see Israelis doing this within the traditional framework of Torah Umitzvot. But seeing that such a scenario is pretty unlikely, I certainly welcome warmly dialogue and study of traditional sources in an attempt to fashion contemporary practice, ritual and lifestyle along more "Jewish" lines. It is wonderful and encouraging to see.

But let me add two points. The first relates to Israel's strength and Zionism.

I believe strongly that with so many forces trying to cause Israel's demise - enemies from without like Hamas and Hezbollah, not to mention Syria and the World Socialist Left; and enemies from within - PostZionism and rampant empty commercialism - the State of Israel will only continue to exist if we understand why we are here, if we know our basic culture, our Tanach and our History, and begin to explore an create within it. (If we are to fight, we must know why we are fighting and why Medinat Yisrael is worth protecting.) If this renewed interest in Secular circles can expand and grow , then it can provide a wonderful counterweight to the negative forces that seem to seek to erode our Jewish roots and national character.

Second point, (and some people may not like this,) I believe that some of the exploration and freedom available to the secular thinker may allow them to create something new in Torah forging fusions that we might not have thought of otherwise. In general, I am a believer that Torah should emerge from the hearth of Yirat Shamayim and Shmirat Mitzvot. And yet, this is happening anyway. And there is a certain boldness and new perspective that the secular world might be able to offer. Maybe the very existence of Medinat Yisrael is a case in point! I very much doubt that the religious would have embarked boldly on so radical an idea. There is an innate conservatism in traditional Judaism. Baalei Teshuva have frequently added new dimensions to Orthodox communies. Believers in Torah Umadda are confident that the secular world and its thoughts have what to enrich Torah with even if they argue as to the manner in which the cross-fertilisation takes place. Who knows? - maybe in the same manner as I can enjoy and feel enriched by Yehudah Amichai's Biblical Poems - these secular Batei Midrash will produce something that will enlarge the mainstream world of Torah, Lehagdil Torah Uleha'adira.
B'ezrat Hashem!