Jewish Journal

Either Dati or Cheloni….It’s Not True Now…and Never Was

by LW Ben Yechezkiel

July 29, 2012 | 7:22 pm

If there was one term I could remove from the Hebrew language it would be cheloni certainly as it used a counterpoint to dati. Dati means religious (although it is only used for halachically observant jews) and cheloni (with its root from the word sand (chol) or in traditional language the opposite of holy (the havdala prayer notes the ending of the kadosh shabbat and the chol of the workweek). The term masorati (traditional) seldom used although it virtually never refers to the Conservative movement in Israel which uses that title. “Reformit” is used for anything resembling American Conservative or Reform almost always used as a term of derision by the observant or as some kind of American version of Judaism which few Israelis that havent spent time in the states.

Survey after survey most recently the Third Guttman study finds a high level of religious belief and observance among Israeli Jews…far higher than Americans.. With only 9% of the population defining themselves as “secular anti religious"16% saying they don’t observe Jewish tradition and 80% believing in God ....obviously using a dichotomy of religious/secular (dati cheloni) is ridiculous.

Increasingly this is reflected in public observance, study and culture. One example is Beit Tefilla. I met this group when I sat in on a program presented as part of officer training at the Hartman institute on “streams of judaism”. Ironically the presentation was “the secular stream”. The presenter, Rani Jager one of the founders, now a friend I check in with during all my Israel visits described his group Beit Tefilla. He called it non orthodox (not dati..again unfortuantely) and stated that the American reform and conservative dont fit the Israeli context in which tradition plays such a part in ways as major as the jewish calendar as the civil calendar and as minor as a talmudic expression encouraging riders to leave a seat for the physically disabled.

Of course if you are in Tel Aviv on a Friday in the summer I encourage you to attend….even the Orthodox… it begins well before candle lighting time.

I have attended serveral observances by tefillot including a moving “havdalla marking the tradition from yom hazikaron (Israeli memorial day) to Yom Haatzmaut independence day…the ceremony is replicated throughout Israel.

The highlight of their year is the summer kabbalat service at the nemal (port) of Tel Aviv. The tefillot (services) are now sponsored by the Tel Aviv Yafo Municipality and the beach is filled with banners promoting it.  The crowd has reached close to 1000 this summer. Throughout the year Beit Tefilla cant keep up with the requests to run kabbalat shabbat services for the army.

Here’s a view of the tefillot with many elements familiar to non orthodox American Jews. The crowd has grown far larger since this 2009 video.

The congregation has one partner in the US, Kehillat Bnai Jeshrun in NY which is unaffilliated with any movement. Wouldnt it be great if other kehillot even those officially associated with an American Jewish movement put aside their concerns with labels and partnered with this group ?


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