Religion & Beliefs

Viva La Secular Yeshiva!

On Friday night a friend of mine brought over an article from the Jerusalem Post about the Secular Yeshiva, a new organization in Tel Aviv devoted to giving non-observant Israeli Jews a stronger understanding of Jewish texts. Here’s a little … Read More

By / May 21, 2007

On Friday night a friend of mine brought over an article from the Jerusalem Post about the Secular Yeshiva, a new organization in Tel Aviv devoted to giving non-observant Israeli Jews a stronger understanding of Jewish texts. Here’s a little snippet from the article:

Like in any yeshiva, students pore over the Gemara, the Torah, the Shulhan Aruch and Maimonides from morning until evening. But unlike other yeshivot, there is no prayer service, no kosher kitchen and no separation between the sexes. There is a period in the morning called shaharit, but rather than pray, the students meditate or read poetry.


At its head is not an old, bearded rabbi, but Tal Shaked, a fair-skinned woman with long blonde hair, who prefers not to be called rosh yeshiva but rather the yeshiva's director.

"One of the main ideas of the yeshiva is that there is no one person in charge," says Shaked, a former lawyer with the Jerusalem District Attorney's Office. "There's no one authority, the idea is to expose them to many worldviews."

So along with the classic Jewish texts, the students also study Ahad Ha'am, A.D. Gordon and Haim Nahman Bialik with the same fervency.

"We don't see any text as an authority but as an inspiration," explains Eran Baruch, one of the founders of the Secular Yeshiva and head of the Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture, through which the yeshiva is administered. "We treat Ahad Ha'am and Gemara the same way – no text is holier than the other."

The intention here in the converted Kupat Holim building in South Tel Aviv is not to study and become more religious, but to learn about Jewish culture, says Shaked. "You can be a Jew without doing mitzvot."

Perhaps, but doing mitzvot is half the program at the Secular Yeshiva, where some 150 pre- and post-army men and women spend a year studying two or three days a week and volunteering in the surrounding impoverished neighborhoods the rest of the time. There's even a program for students from abroad to spend one day a week learning in the yeshiva and the remainder of the week in community service.

Is this the best thing since sliced bread, or what? Finally, a program that’s not trying to brainwash anyone, that doesn’t have an agenda beyond the respect and understanding of Judaism and Zionist history. Too often in Israel secular society ignores Jewish history entirely. I think this kind of place, an organization that isn’t doing kiruv, that isn’t trying to trick people into becoming more religious, is an amazing antidote to the distance so many Israelis feel between themselves and their heritage. Learning about your roots doesn’t mean you have wear a long skirt and daven micha, it just means you have a deeper understanding of yourself and your country. So cool! I can’t wait to visit when I’m next in Israel. In the meantime, check out their website.