Tamar Zandberg

The gatekeepers of Jewish conversation

There are many ways to be Jewish but it seems that Tzavta and Tzohar didn’t get the memo

This coming weekend, many Jews around the world will gather for the traditional Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night Jewish learning event. In Tel Aviv, one of the many Tikkunim will take place at the Tzavta performance center as a collaborative event with Tzohar, an association of modern Orthodox Rabbis in Israel. The organizers, Tzavta and Tzohar, are inviting the local, secular public to join with well-known public intellectuals, rabbis, artists and journalists in on a night of learning and conversation regarding their Jewish culture and identity.

Over the past few years, Tikkun events have been increasing in popularity, every year more and more events are created, with a growing audience of secular Jews who are taking an interest in this special night. However, this unique opportunity for secular Jews to connect to their own identity is being confined and used by those who see Orthodoxy as the only legitimate form of Judaism.

Although the program offered by Tzavta and Tzohar presents itself as an inclusive and pluralistic event in which the audience, mostly secular Jews, can explore their culture freely, in actuality it is a narrow and discriminating one. It has recently been exposed that Tzavta has even agreed to a demand by Tzohar to prevent non-Orthodox rabbis from taking part in the programs. This requirement is unacceptable considering previous commitments to allow rabbis of all denominations to participate in the event.

Holding the Tikkun at Tzavta is significant due to the venue’s symbolic importance as a bastion of secular culture and diversity. As the host, Tzavta is able to lure wide audiences and offer an easy route (tzohar, in Hebrew) to connect with Judaism, a new and unknown world for a majority of the audience. It is very troubling that this iconic Tel Aviv institution is acting under false pretenses and offering only one way to explore the Jewish tradition.

There are many ways to be Jewish. Sadly, it seems that Tzavta and Tzohar didn’t get the memo. It is disappointing that a program that describes itself as “a platform for deep conversations on culture and Jewish-Israeli identity,” marks clearly narrow and discriminatory boundaries for those conversations. Thus creating access to only one form of Judaism and making it harder for anyone who does not adhere to that way.

Ironically, this is happening at a time of exciting development of pluralistic Judaism in many places in Israel. When more and more secular and masorti/traditional men and women are searching for new ways to understand and experience Jewish culture and identity that are not necessarily the Orthodox way. Following the public’s criticism some of the speakers have withdrawn their participation. I hope that the organizers will change their policy and understand that the best way to invite secular Jews to explore their own identity is not by shutting the door to diversity but rather by having Reform, Conservative, secular and Orthodox rabbis collaborate and share spaces together.

Due to public outcry a partial solution was found: Reform and Conservative Rabbis will have their own session. This compromise will enable the event to take place as planned but is misleading. It does not solve the larger issue of Tzohar’s unwillingness to collaborate with or respect non-Orthodox Rabbis.

Ideally Tzohar will replace its attitude with one that is more inclusive. In the event that that does not occur, then Tzavta should reconsider who it partners with in the future.

About the Author
Tamar Zandberg is a member of Knesset in the Meretz party.