Menachem Mendel

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Interview with Yoav Sorek-Part II

See here for part I.

Are You Beginning to Miss It?

“The truth is that I feel totally connected. Maybe I am misleading myself, but I have a feeling that uncovering my head is a type of option also in religious society, or in its margins. I feel connected to it and part of it at the same time, and this definitely gives me some amount of space. The truth is that in the meantime from the perspective of my self-image, I have a kippah on my head. I need to remind myself that the person across from me does not see it. This creates amusing thoughts all of the time, mostly when I am not in a religious environment.”

Will the dichotomy break? Will the actions of a well-known and prolific figure, like Yoav Sorek, and of people with similar beliefs who are gathering around him, in what has been called by the temporary name “The Hebrew Movement,” become part of a larger social movement for the taking down of the separation, often artificial, between “religious” and “secular”? Will the day be closer when the Israeli man will not need to be externally identified any more by the look of his head, with either this group or another-secular or religious? From an ideological viewpoint, Sorek is no longer alone, and even in this symbolic act of taking off the kippah without giving up on belief and the commandments, in the past few years a number of people have gone before him. This is of course without mentioning the previous generations, in which a kippah was not worn in all of the religious communities.

Rabbi Nathan Lopez-Cardoza wrote a number of weeks ago in the supplement “Shabbat” about the feeling of shaking off reflexive religiosity in an article titled “I am taking off my kippah.” But with Sorek this is part of a process which is much more than refreshing one’s personal religious feeling. “I feel that in taking off the kippah there is a statement of “I am a regular Israeli.” This is a little bit funny, because society has split into sectors-and still, to be with a kippah, at least among Ashkenazim, this is like saying “I am an Israeli, but…” “I am an Israeli, but I am obligated to other things.” I happen to think that there is no Jewish identity more meaningful than to be an Israeli, for Jewish sovereignty is the central expression of Jewish identity in this generation.

Maybe it has also blurred this religious identity?

“It is correct that this identity gave birth in certain instances to something that is totally flat of roots, and it is correct that religious education, the only one today that educates for idealism and actual contact with Jewish sources, there are many tools that others don’t have to come to grips with this problem, but this is our problem, the Israelis, not ‘their’ problem, ‘the secular.’ More than this, the failure of the non-religious secular society to put forth a new generation with deep roots comes as a result of it initially taking upon it a big and meaningful challenge-transferring Judaism to a new age, of sovereignty in the land. Religious zionism, on the other hand, gave up on the danger, but in doing so also gave up on the chance to be relevant. The smart thing now is to make the switch-but without alienating the source of our Jewish energy.”

And you think that without a kippah, but with all of your religious baggage and Torah-based agenda, you won’t be considered a religious agent in disguise?

“If the future of the Jewish people is found in those same holy trappings of religious zionism, then there it is found, even if this is problematic from a marketing perspective. But I am not marketing regular religious zionism, for the change that I am expecting that religious zionism will undergo is not cosmetic. Taking off the kippah is just a symbol of a rethinking of everything that needs to be done, to cross over from the sector to the people at large. This is a small sign that is just signaling a direction. What will be the expression of this direction, I still don’t know. Everything is open from my perspective. I myself will not determine which new faces tradition will take on. This needs to be clarified a beit midrash that will deal with things in a fundamental and comprehensive manner. This is my dream.”

Stuck in Exilic Wars

Relative to other religious people, for you it is easy to make this symbolic step, because you are a well-known figure and won’t be though of as someone who has thrown it away.

“I agree. In the society of which I am a part I am a well-known individual and my life until now has been frum, therefore I am not “suspect.” But this doesn’t mean that in people’s eyes this isn’t strange or disturbing. This is so, and this is also not very pleasant. If I would think that this would cause my son to be thrown out of his Yeshiva high school and would put into question my membership in the settlement where I live, Ofra, I assume that I wouldn’t be doing it. Much to my joy, my settlement is tolerant enough. People without a kippah live here, that go to synagogue on Shabbat oand then their kids to a religious school. The settlement understands that it is possible to include people who want to be Jews even if they are not like you. And that is what is nice here. The trade-off from my standpoint to living in the city, in a mixed secular-religious society, is to open up the religious settlements that are able to do so to the traditional community (hevrah masoratit).

“Ofra is unique in that its rabbis, Avi Gisser, relates to prayer in such a way that it must come from amidst reality. Therefore he says, for example, on Rosh Hodesh ‘He who has made miracles for our ancestors and for us and redeemed us from slavery to freedom’ and not just ‘He who has made miracle for our ancestors and redeemed them.’ I once asked him what about the Musaf prayer on holidays in which it is very pronounced the supplication “That you shall lead us up in joy to our land and plant us within its border,’ and the promise is that if we would just go up to the land immediately we will offer sacrifices-things that are ungracious and actually lies. He responded to me, ‘Of course they should be changed, but with regard to smaller things they didn’t agree with me, surely on this they won’t agree with me.’ In other words, as a rabbi who respects his teachers, as someone who is part of the orthodox system, I am not able to change. I don’t denigrate this answer. It is correct, and sometimes also correct to sacrifice the truth of the content in order to preserve the sacred framework. But what are we going to do being that the majority of the Jewish people are no longer within this framework? From my standpoint this was a clear illustration of the corner into which religiosity has put itself, a corner in which it prevents from itself to be an honest and truthful worship of God, to be relevant to Israeli life.”

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