The topic of Donniel Hartman’s talk at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades on Thursday is “The Tribes of Israel.”
His talk will “tell the story of how in fact Jewish life in Israel has undergone some dramatic changes in the past 15 years,” Hartman said. It will present “a picture of a religiously diverse and dynamic Israel – and one that has a potential for far more similarity with North American Jewry than most North American Jews and even Israelis themselves understand.”
Hartman uses the word “tribes” to describe Israel’s different communities as a way to refer to the interplay of unity and diversity in earliest Jewish history.
Jewish tradition “talks of a community that grows out of a family. Embedded in the story of the family is the story of particular tribes, each with their own conflicts and interests,” he said. “Differences and how to live with differences is an integral part of our national story.
“The ethnic tribes have disappeared, but have been replaced by ideological ones.”
He plans to tell the story of some of the tribes, their challenges, and what it means for the story of Israel and North American Jewish life.
He identified six primary tribes in Israel’s Jewish community. (“I could have given you 12; 48; there are always subtribes. Dayeinu with six.”)
They include, he said:
“¢ The ultra-Orthodox (8-10 percent of the Jewish population)
“¢ Religious Zionists (8-10 percent)
“¢ The traditional (primarily Sephardi) (30 percent)
“¢ The Jewish secular (30 percent)
“¢ The Israeli secular (10 percent)
“¢ Jewish non-Jews (5 percent)
“The non-Jewish 21 percent of Israel also have tribes,” he said, but they are not part of this talk.
Hartman said all of the groups are undergoing their own “challenges and changes and complexities.”
The story is often news to Israelis, who tend to still use the old categories of either “religious” – Orthodox – or “secular.”
“I basically introduce them to their own Judaism,” Hartman said. He was talking about his lectures to Israeli army officers who come to the institute to learn about Zionism, religious pluralism, and democracy.
“The classic notion is that an Israeli says, ‘yes, I have a Shabbat dinner; yes, I have a sukkah; of course I fast on Yom Kippur. I go to a tikkun on Shavuot. But Judaism – I have no connection to that.’
“They are doing so many Jewish things they don’t have an expression for. When you see yourself as an outsider, where Judaism belongs to someone else, you don’t understand what you’re doing and you don’t respect what you’re doing,” he said.
Hartman’s lecture is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m. If you can’t make it, you can watch a version he presented at the Hartman Institute online at http://bit.ly/js-tribes.