Schooling Seculars in Honey and Halakhah

Believe it or not, Israelis need Jewish education.

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Secular Jewish Renaissance

The Hak'hel Festival for Jewish Identity, which involves many of the organizations in Israel dealing with Jewish learning from a non-Orthodox standpoint, draws close to 5,000 participants, many of them young. Despite this success, which he refers to as a "secular Jewish renaissance," those in contact with Bina and other similar organizations constitute a "drop in the ocean" of Israeli society, says Maor.

He cites the most significant development to date in the Jewish education of secular Israelis as the formation of a successful "gateway experience" for participants: Programs which focus on study, as opposed to ritual experiences, are received far better by secular Israelis. Many, he says, are "interested in learning about Judaism that is not just halakhic [about Jewish law]" and is about the connections between the modern Hebrew literature and poetry that they grew up with and its Jewish roots. He says Israel is beginning to "develop a non-Orthodox Jewish culture," one which encompasses religion and is "indigenous" rather than affiliated, as in the Diaspora.

Opposition to his work from secular Israelis is still common, says Maor. He frequently comes across those who "want the synagogue they never step into to be Orthodox," and those who challenge him as an "authentic source"--despite his studies of Judaism and Jewish history--because they view the "only valid Jewish expression as an Orthodox one."

When Maor was at high school and heavily involved in the LA Jewish community, he wanted to be a rabbi. Yet when he "experienced" Israel for the first time, he believed there was "potentially an even higher expression" of his Judaism and he "didn't need to become a Jewish professional."

Now, he says, he has come "full circle."

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Charlotte Halle

Charlotte Halle is editor of the English edition of Haaretz.