On Shavuot eve, Jews all over the world will again come together in a spirit of unity and appreciation for our heritage in a night of Torah study. Once again, Tzohar will have the chance to play its role in facilitating Torah learning on this special night through the dozens of study programs we will organize throughout Israel.
Despite undeserved media criticism alleging exclusionary practices on our part, I welcome this opportunity to reiterate that our mandate has not wavered at all and these attacks are a dangerous distortion of our mission.
In fact, there is an undeniable link between the delivery of the Torah at Sinai and our lives thousands of years later.
Throughout the more than twenty years that Tzohar has been in existence, we have avoided the practice of categorizing Jews based on denomination. We fervently believe that every Israeli Jew — and for that matter every Jew regardless of where he or she might be found — deserves to be treated with respect and understanding.
When a young couple walks into our office to ensure they receive a halachic marriage carried out with compassion and respect, at no point do we ever, or would we ever, ask whether they define themselves as Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or other. While differing perspectives within Jewish society are a natural part of our modern existence, our objective is to reduce friction and division rather than facilitate it. Indeed, this is a commitment which should be lauded by Jews of all backgrounds rather than attacked.
There is no denying that Tzohar is an organization of “Orthodox Zionist” rabbis and we do not shy away from that designation. Our commitment is to carry out our work on behalf of all the people of Israel within the strict guidelines of halacha. So, yes, we are Orthodox and we are certainly Zionist. But this is not to say that we would ever close our ears and our hearts to the needs of other Jews.
Quite the opposite is true.
We appreciate that in order to build a stronger and more united Jewish identity, we must be open to promoting a healthy interaction with all Jews.
We have always had our detractors and we know that in order to enact the changes in Israeli society that we know are necessary for the good of our people, we will always have critics.
The very reason why we invest so much in Shavuot and producing Torah study programs all over Israel is because of our realization that this holiday sits at the very essence of who we are as one people.
There is a well-known teaching in the midrash that says that every Jewish soul was present at the giving of the Torah at Sinai. How literally one interprets this teaching can be up for discussion. But the more important takeaway is that the Torah given then can and should be embraced by every Jew today regardless of how he or she defines oneself.
Our people face many threats of all different types; physical and spiritual.
Overcoming these challenges can only be achieved if we refrain from creating unnecessary internal divisions and appreciate that we are one people with one heart and one soul.
My sincere hope on this Shavuot evening, is that my fellow Jews, here in Israel and abroad embrace the holiday by returning to this reality. If you can, join a study group in your local area or if not simply open a Jewish text and be reminded of that common bond that unites us.
May it be a meaningful and significant Shavuot for ALL the people of Israel.