Identity, Israel, Religion

Kibbutz Degania chooses Orthodoxy

Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday printed an Op-Ed piece in its “soapbox” section about Kibbutz Degania’s decision to open a synagogue. Kibbutz Degania is Israel’s oldest kibbutz, founded by chalutzim in 1910, at the Southwest of the Kinneret. Its long and mostly secular history is highlighted by such notariety as being the birthplace of Moshe Dayan, and being the final resting place of many of the pioneers of the Labor Movement. Degania certainly has an unrivaled place in Israel’s history.
But residents of today’s Kibbutz Degania made a decision recently that places it at odds with its secular past: they decided that their Kibbutz synagogue would be Orthodox. This is not totally out of sync with what should be expected from Israeli society, either. Non-orthodox streams of Judaism have yet to make the inroads into the Holy Land that they have in America or Europe.
This change of zeitgeist in Kibbutz Degania has not left everyone pleased. And the onesided vitriol spewing from the foam-covered mouth of a particular columnist is even out of place for Yediot Aharonot (a paper not known for being pro-dati). Dr. Dalia Sara Marx, an instructor at Hebrew Union College, used Degania’s decision as the springboard for her fuming rant against traditional Judaism:

I was thrilled to hear that you, the descendants of the original kibbutz, have chosen to inject a modicum of holiness and tradition to your lives. But I was saddened to hear you have chosen an Orthodox, discriminatory synagogue.

The synagogue has not even been around three weeks. Ha’aretz ran the headline: Pioneers’ legacy being sullied.
Such venomous language is not only not tolerated from the religious community (from dati le’umi straight on through to Neturei Karta), but rarely said in such a forum. Secular-religious tension is not well served by secularists who go on divisive rants in public forums.

Are you really willing to declare yourselves guests in your own house and to accept religious philosophies that are not yours? Why would you agree to bring that empty truck of Orthodoxy into your community?

EMPTY TRUCK OF ORTHODOXY? The recognition of the Divinity of the Torah renders ones service to the Creator an empty truck? Adherence — or at least attempted adherence — to an immutable code of Law held as deriving from Mt. Sinai itself renders one an unwanted interloper?
Degania’s history aside, today’s residents of Degania want traditional religion in their lives. Were she, like the Conservative Movement advocates, really only concerned with Jews doing “one more mitzva each day”, perhaps her tongue would not have lashed out so.
Her condescension is almost mind-boggling:

Why would you, of all people – men and women who make rational decisions with respect to all other aspects of your communal lives, and who have made painful sacrifices in order to make your community appropriate for the needs of today – why are you prepared to forego your control with regard to your Jewish spiritual life?

Orthodoxy is irrational and causes one to forego one’s control over their spiritual life? This is a slap in the face to the entire vibrant tradition of shakla v’tarya — asking and responding with one’s spiritual leader — which drives Orthodoxy today as much as it did in ancient Babylon. What of the logic of the Ramba”m and R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto — or of the exhortation of R’ Sa’adiah Ga’on which states that one must learn until the Torah “becomes logical to them” (Emunot v’De’ot)? Perhaps a rejection of the divinity of the Talmud could lead one to think such, but I think this shows an underlying problem.
There is a severe double-standard with what is “allowed” and what “is not allowed” in secular-religious relations in Israel. Dr. Marx crossed all lines when she called a vibrant tradition — a living mesorah — an “empty truck”, but then perhaps in her twisted sense of tikkun olam she did a good thing. Many of the things which were stated in Ha’aretz for example would not exist in many Modern Orthodox synagogues, and the fact that it had to be said that the museum in the Kibbutz wouldn’t be “Sha”s style” shows the politicization of these decisions.
Charedi rabbis have their names dragged through far deeper mud over far less than this. They are held to their statements sometimes ad absurdum, and anything perceived as an infringement on others is not easily lived down. The semantic equivalent of throwing rocks, such divisive rhetoric as that spouted by Dr. Marx adds nothing to the cause of unifying Israeli society.
Why advocates of religious pluralism find no problem with advocating pluralism to the exclusion of the Orthodox is beyond me.
I hope the Degania shul has Daf Yomi.

20 thoughts on “Kibbutz Degania chooses Orthodoxy

  1. i don’t mean to always comment on the Conservative stuff, but HUC, where Dr. Marx teaches, is the intellectual and acedemic center of the Reform movement, not Conservative.
    Also: i don’t think that Dr. Marx is dismayed at the kibbutz’ choice of Orthodoxy because it means that they now believe in God in a more traditional mode. Rather, she sees it as disingenous for an institution that stood for progressive and egalitarian values supporting a religious movement that she sees as hierarchical and undemocratic. It’s a reasonable complaint to say that where once the kibbutz was an institution that stood for, say, gender equality, where the women pitched in like the men, the same cannot be said about their shul.

  2. “Such venomous language is not only not tolerated from the religious community (from dati le’umi straight on through to Neturei Karta)”
    What have you been smoking? Are you at all aware of the extremely public statements of orthodox leaders in Israel?
    – That a tragedy involving the death of children was ‘because the mezusah in the classroom was not kosher’
    – That kibbutzniks are ‘eaters of rabbits’
    – That Arabs are … (that blank has been generously filled in over the years!)
    – That the Conservative Movement is the ‘Cult closest to Judaism’
    and on and on….
    Ovadia Yosef, former chief rabbi -
    Rabbi Shach was deeply opposed to Zionism, both religious and secular. He was fiercely dismissive of secular Israeli culture. For example, during a 1990 speech he derided kibbutzniks as “breeders of rabbits and pigs” who did not “know what Yom Kippur is”. In the same speech he said that the Labor Party had cut themselves off from their Jewish past and wished to “seek a new Torah”.
    There’s more, but enough.

  3. 1) Degania’s decision is not so surprising – this is the old Israeli “the synagogue I don’t attend must still be Orthodox”.
    Degania’s members may not be strictly observant – but even the most ignorant of them is vastly more knowledgable about Judaism than most of their diaspora counterparts.
    They know Jewish history – and feel themselves a part of it more directly than many “culturally” Jewish Reform and Conservative Jews. They have read the Bible and Talmud in the original Hebrew – if only in school. And they are living as a majority in Israel, not as a minority in the diaspora.
    All this adds up to a tacit rejection of Reform and Conservative Judaism. People protest the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, but the bald fact is that the “progressive” movements’ programs of cultural accommodation are largely irrelevant to Israelis – even secular Israelis.
    With little social stigma, and no language barrier, most secular Israelis naturally do things the authentic way whenever they “do Jewish”.
    2) Dr. Marx may have been referring to a famous (perhaps apochryphal) anectode in that “empty truck” thingie.
    The story is usually told as a great Othodox sage meeting a Zionist leader. The Zionist – convinced he represents The Future – tells the Rabbi, “when 2 wagons meet on a road, the empty wagon must give way before the full wagon.”
    To which the Rabbi replies that HE represents the full wagon, and the Zionists the empty wagon…
    The Hebrew word in for wagon is “karon”. Is this the word used by Marx in the original article? The word “truck” may be a mistranslation.

  4. Charles, your outrage and the fact that you have quotes and sources to back you up proves my point.
    Were a charedi rabbi to say things along these lines — and in my quite humble opinion, being called “illogical” and “discriminatory” is right up there with “cult” in level of offense — you’re right. There would be wikis. There would be blogspots. They would be lampooned from here to SNL.
    Yet their secularist counterpart can throw, by far, more abrasive words back. Charedi and parasite are almost synonymous with many Israeli pundits, regardless of what Nachal Charedi enlistment numbers look like, or what the employment numbers would say. Was the Shinui ad not offensive?

  5. invisible hand– you make good points.
    Had Dr. Marx phrased her remarks the way you did– calmly and clearly, without vitriol, rather than going off on flights of ortho-bashing, I’d feel much more sympathetic.

  6. Is it ever possible to prove – in debates between chareidi and secular, or between left-wing and right-wing, or between israeli and palestinian, which side is really held up to a higher standard by the media or by people in general?
    one of the reasons i don’t post as much on jewschool anymore is that i see the same rhetorical strategies being used over and over. x is a taboo that i am breaking. i am speaking out against monolith y. if group z says this, no one notices, but if group z-prime says it there’s a shitstorm. i can’t keep track of it anymore.

  7. attempted adherence — to an immutable code of Law held as deriving from Mt. Sinai
    Aye, well, there’s the rub right there. Let’s talk about history. Does fact exist? immutable? Compare Devorim to Exodus. There’s a lot of changing going on in the Torah itself. Even the 10 Imperatives (they are not commandments, Debrot is not commands) Who replaced the Liviim? Who found Devorim in Bayit Sheni? Who were Shmuel, Yermiahu and Yecheskel in the grand scheme of things? What were Shlomo’s wive’s idols all about?? Can you answer the questions? Do you know history? Suggestion, a book. The Shaping of Jewish History by Ellis Rivkin, 1967, Simon and Schuster

  8. Degania’s members may not be strictly observant – but even the most ignorant of them is vastly more knowledgable about Judaism than most of their diaspora counterparts.
    That may not be true. I have been told by people who teach Judaic studies to secular israelis that there is a lot of ignorance of Jewish tradition in the Holy Land. Being able to speak Hebrew doesn’t mean that you automatically know everything about Judaism.
    And while I’m not sure the author was doing this, it’s imporant to eliminate the meme that “observant” = “Orthodox.”

  9. I hope they don’t learn daf yomi. If they’re going to learn something, at last let it be an actual educational endeavor and not a ritualized unfruitful run-through.

  10. This entry almost makes sense, if you think that the problem in Israel is that Orthodox Judaism is somehow not being fairly represented in Israel.
    Because I heard, like, that the President of Israel wont even address an Orthodox Rabbi as “rabbi!” Isn’t that what happened?
    Oh wait…

  11. Y-Love, Shinui was indeed offensive in its rhetoric, and now it is gone. Your point was that secularists are more offensive that the Orthodox. That’s not true…. both camps give offense. One difference though, is that the offence from the Orthos often comes from the actual leadership – say, chief rabbi, or political kingmaker. In the secular camp, it comes haphazardly from the culture, and not in the form of pronouncements from say, the leaders of Labor, or the presendents of universities. There’s no comparison on that level: the ortho’s preach prejudice with the backing of authority; secularists who do the same don’t have that backing.

  12. 1. The average Israeli can’t even understand three or four verses of the Bible.
    2. The shul is Orthodox, but that does not mean any of the congregants are observant.
    3. Orthodoxy is not pluralistic – thus it, too, is beyond the pale of pluralism.
    4. The whole piece sounds vindictive and ortho-supremist.
    5. Would Y-Love seriously prefer a shul that has a mechitza and segregates women even though it will be empty except on bar mitzvahs and yom kippur afternoons over a shul with a rabbi and a community that does not segregate against women? Is he feeling well?

  13. who would have thought that israeli religious and/or political culture could be so hurtful as to lead to insult! i am shocked. israeli culture is so calm and gentle. those people would never use harsh words when speaking of different streams of judaism.
    what fucked up planet are you guys on? have any of you ever heard a conversation between two israelis? you people must live in a very special bubble.

  14. Charles, surely you’ve heard some of the anti-religious rhetoric which has been spouted in the Knesset (the names Shulamit Aloni and Tommy Lapid spring *instantly* to mind). It doesn’t get much more “leadership” vis-a-vis the media than being an MK. If you’re saying that R’ Ovadia’s role has no secular counterpart, I could hear that. I’m not even suggesting that the dati world is void of anti-secular rhetoric, far from it. However, these rabbis get lampooned, ridiculed, stigmatized — especially in light of an increasingly anti-religious wave in worldwide media (q.v. Wafa Sultan’s rise from random academician to “voice of the new Muslimah”).
    And Kyle’s mom – built into the Torah is the idea of jurisprudence, shoftim v’shotrim titen l’cha b’chol sha’arecha, we are to place judges and officers in all of our cities and, see the following verse, these people have legislative power — G-d given by virtue of their authority being ascribed to them in verse. To say, “look, Hillel made a prozbul” or “look, the Rabbis could forcibly nullify Biblical marriage” and then to try to parallel that with this is a moot point, legislation of the logistics of keeping mitzvos is not the same as legislation as to the applicability of mitzvos. (Not to mention, on the grand scene, as Muslims no longer have ijtihaad we no longer have the period where one can personally do the type of exegesis that Chaza”l did.)
    And Amit — your point #5 was beyond specious. Obviously an empty shul defeats the purpose of its construction. What’s a beit knesset without a knesset? But again, go to Young Israel of New Rochelle and then go to Meah Shearim. You’d be hard pressed to find 5 similarities. “Orthodoxy” is in itself a varied term with an entire spectrum of meanings and to just dismiss it because “it’s discriminatory against females” is as much a blanket generalization as a racial epithet.
    Ok I can’t stop looking at this Chofetz Chaim photo.
    BTW, I’d like to apologize and ask forgiveness now, officially, for not making proper distinctions between conservative and Reform and/or for inappropriate ideological dissing. Anyone who was offended I apologize for having offended you. (Not for defending Orthodoxy against verbal weapons of mass distortion.)

  15. Yoffie is REFORM, not Orthodox, and that’s who Katzav dissed.
    y-love–Judaism has to be ethical, moral and logical. I don’t want to start, because I will go on forever. I am on steroids, remember.

  16. Will there be carlebach davening?
    I think it is perfect mida kneged mida.
    The Chalutzim thought that they could create a Jewish identity focused soley on the land and state. This was counter to the entirety of Jewish belief. They now have a Shul. Religion of the land and work, as AD Gordon outlined? It was a nice thought, but wrong. I grew up thinking that Degania was moshiach. Now we know that degania was just another opportunity for teshuva.

  17. Y-Love, I’m sure you already know my opinion on the matter, but wanted to give you props for an excellent article!!!
    It does seem odd that in a secular society, the religious face far more prejudice than the society likes to fess up to existing. Israel does treat Orthodoxy like it is backwards, which is quite strange, when you consider the nature of observance. (For the one commenter, observant=observant. Mechitza, Shabbos, and Kashrut included, B”H.)
    HaDatim face a lot of challenges in Israel and such needs to improve if Israel is to move forward with her people intact. Otherwise, she cannot stand at all.

  18. hello. my name is omri. I’m a 17 year old kid who lives in israel in the most beautiful place in the world: kibbutz degania. I surfed here by mistake and I would like to tell you the truth.
    anyway I’m in kind of a hurry so i will attach a link to degania’s formal website and if anyone wants to ask any kind of question. please do.

  19. Shalom.
    I will go very soon to Israel, I wonder if there is a program for volunteers in the Kibbutz, and what´s the program of your Yeshivah.
    Thanks Yom Tov.

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