Social gaps, between different groups and populations, are a fundamental problem that the State of Israel grapples with today. In many cases these divisions are physical as seen in many Israeli neighborhoods and communities where diverse populations live separately, refusing to integrate and live together. These rifts are evident in many walks of Israeli life, and what is common amongst all of these social gaps is that they cause extreme isolation and social alienation between people living in the same society.
Thus we find a strong divide between r
In addition to this, other aspects of identity complicate these social divides. For instance, there are divisions based on ethnicity in Isra
These gaps are also evident and equally serious in
There are other areas where these gaps are apparent (for example the distribution of populations in Israel's peripheries and centers) but here we will discuss an important and currently relevant element of the Sephardic tradition throughout the generations which should be instrumental in addressing these social challenges: the ability to be inclusive and the strength of a worldview that rises above classifications and social barriers, resulting in communal unity, a force that is dwindling in modern society.
Three Kinds of R
Initially, it is important to note that in Sephardic communities in the Diaspora there were never divisions between Haredi, Secular or Reform Jews; everyone was considered Jewish, some observed many of the mitzvoth and some performed fewer mitzvoth. All of these Jews should be working towards becoming better people and better Jews. In many areas of today's
In these communities, you can divide the population up into three groups, according to their commitment to a Jewish lifestyle: a. Those who keep what is written in the Shulchan Aruch to the best of their ability; b. those who keep some of the Mitzvoth, usually the more experiential aspects of the Jewish faith such as Shabbat services at the synagogue, Shabbat dinner with the family or Jewish holidays and lifecycle events, including those specific to the Sephardic Jews such as public celebrations in memory of a saintly rabbis, Ta'anit Dibur (abstention from speech), Yom Shekulo Torah (A day of Torah Study), Brit Yitzhak (Pre- circumcision ceremony in honor of a newborn son) and memorial services etc; and c. those who practice Judaism from afar, those who are satisfied with keeping Kosher and attending synagogue on Yom Kippur.
The common denominator between these groups is that they respectfully interact with ease during communal events and other occasions. The connection between these groups is not artificial because the people themselves do not see each other as belonging to different worlds. Instead, they see themselves as one family, while recognizing the fact that there are those who keep this or that mitzvah with more or less dedication, and they value those who keep more of the Mitzvoth. Each of these groups feels connected to God in different ways and no one excludes any community members based on observance level or r
The second group is made up of people who feel close to Orthodoxy even though they are not considered full Sabbath observers. Nevertheless, they respect the tradition and feel a strong connection to the rabbinical world and to the figure of the Rabbi, especially those Rabbis who take part in the communal events we described above.
It is interesting to understand how such a large population of people and their families, who do not keep the Shulchan Aruch, and who have no intention of doing so, feel so connected to those with a higher level of r
How do you create this fe
For example, there was a man within our community who did not attend synagogue on a regular basis but did know how to pray. He would lay Tefillin every morning at home before going to school and we would see him at community events and sometimes on Shabbat. When this man's father's memorial (Hazkara) was coming up, he prepared for the reading of the Haftorah and the synagogue community was very supportive of this. He read the Haftorah beautifully.
The Network and the Ladder
In order to understand how a community is able to function with such diversity it is important to understand how our spiritual world is designed. There are two ways to understand the development of community: the ladder model and the network model.
In a ladder community, it is clear to each member who is "above" him or her, with regard to spiritual efforts and ability to speak his mind within the community. Below the Rabbi, who is the highest r
On the other hand, in the network model, everyone lives together in a close-knit community, connected together in one group. There are some areas of the network that are weaker and some that are stronger but everyone is interconnected within the network. An example of this is when a rabbi plays a central role within this network, and using his esteemed position, he is able to significantly influence community processes. On the other hand, those who are not so important and who have very little connection with those in the network do not feel out of place or lesser than anyone else within the network. They are equal to other members of the community. As we mentioned in the previous example, these individuals are aware of the unique power they have within the community, as compared to other more prominent community members with regard to Mitzvoth. This outlook, even if it is not considered a method, is very similar to communities of the Sephardic traditions, and this perspective is advantageous because everyone fits in, and at the same time, communal leadership is preserved. Sometimes we will find a mix of these two models, with the rabbi of the community above the community as a neutral unifying force and the rest of the community an equal part of the network.
Between Man and God and Man and Man
The world of Mitzvoth is divided into two different categories, those between man and God and those between man and his fellow man. In the r
While we do not want to disregard the importance of these boundaries, there is a scenario in which we can emphasize the significance of the Mitzvoth between man and man, for example, supporting a friend in need financially, spending quality time helping those in need or performing simple acts of Hesed (benevolence). We should encourage, public responsibility for what happens within the community, from helping a neighbor find a job to visiting a sick or elderly person. Mitzvoth related to trade such as Yosher (honesty in commerce), Amida b' Diburo (Keeping your word with regard to business transactions) etc, do just this. These are Mitzvoth that can significantly broaden the number of community members who keep Mitzvoth.
For example, there is a man in our community who gets up early to pray at dawn at home and then hurries to work, works all day, comes home to help his family get ready for dinner, does homework with his kids, and helps put them to sleep and then he stops by the synagogue for the Arvit service and participates in the evening torah lesson where he falls asleep throughout. This man is active in the community Hesed committee and helps distribute food to the poor and provides homework help for disadvantaged children in the community. This man does not know a lot of torah and he even goes to work without a Kippa.
On what rung of the ladder should we place this man? In some communities he has a good chance of being very low on the ladder because he does not keep enough of the mitzvoth between God and man. Indeed, this Jew still has a long way to go in his spiritual journey (as do we all) but it is essential to recognize the entirety of his actions within the community. When we treat individuals such as this man with respect, it creates a fe
There is an interesting example in our community in
We should view these young men in a different way. We should recognize that during the month of Elul these young men feel a closeness to their Creator, a fe
As we review these examples, we realize that what causes these gaps between different groups in Isra
Rabbi Isaac Chouraqui, Director of Rabbinic Leadership Program
Rabbi Isaac Chouraqui is the Director of the Rabbinic Leadership program at Memizrach Shemesh. He also serves as the Rabbi of Yad Ramah Synagogue in
Rabbi David Zenou, Coordinator of Rabbinic Leadership Program
Rabbi David Zenou is the Coordinator of the Rabbinic Leadership program at Memizrach Shemesh. He serves as a Rabbi at Moshav Shalva near Kiryat Gat.