Bridging the Divide

Bridging the Divide

A unique meeting took place this week in Tel Aviv, as students from the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva visited their counterparts at BINA, Israel’s Secular Yeshiva. “We were about 20 guys, both pre-IDF and post-IDF, and they were all post-high school students, young men and women, who have chosen to devote a year to social activism and studying the Jewish sources prior to joining the military,” reports 5th year Machanaim student Shem Fried, 22. “It was fascinating.”

Machanaim at BINAAt first, the two groups of students came together for a joint learning session within the framework of one of their regular classes, “Gender studies, through the lens of the rabbinic sages’ texts (aggadot Chazal).”

“We sat together and compared learning methods,” Fried relates.  “Their facilitator presented the approach they take, which is very personal. They ask, ‘What is the text telling me?’ and then they look outward: ‘What should I be doing with this learning? How am I living the text; how am I converting it into action?'”

Participants then split up into small groups of 2-3 students from each institution. Says Fried: “We learned together for about 40 minutes – but beyond that, we asked deep questions about one another’s lives. I, for example, was very curious about what motivates them, as people who identify as secular, to accessing Torah texts: I wanted to understand what they expect to find in the sources, and how they decide which of the laws to fulfil and which to reject. It was interesting and enjoyable to discuss religious questions directly and openly with the ‘other,’ and to hear how they interpret texts that I had, until now, considered ‘mine.'”

An Opportunity to Meet the Ingruiging and the Intrigued

The students then reconvened to process, together, some of the subjects that arose during the small group sessions and examine some of the new understandings that had been established.

“We continued studying the aggadot and to debate the status of women in our society today. The discussion progressed to basic assumptions of progress, social-halakhic constructs, conservatism, and the place of halakha and culture within the gender issue,” Fried relates. “All in all, it was an inspiring experience; an opportunity to meet the intriguing and intrigued secular Jewish figure, hearing opinions with which I don’t agree, responding to them – and then hearing their responses.”

Rabbi Shlomo Vilk“We must not reduce halakha and Jewish thought to only mussar (morality) or tikkun (social justice),” says Machanaim’s Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Shlomo Vilk. “Judaism is meant to utilize a combination of morality, social justice and Jewish culture as a means through which to reach toward the sublime, towards God. We believe that when one studies Judaism, the light contained within his study elevates and improves him, and focuses his heart and his consciousness beyond the everyday world.  We came to BINA to learn from them how the Torah can be studied the lens of realism and emotion – and not just religiously. We trust that at the same time, we introduced something from our own mode of study into their beit midrash.”

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