Tu B’shvat 5766
On January 23rd , Rabbi Dr. Eitan Chikli – the Director General of the TALI Education Fund – and I went to visit two new TALI schools in Ma’aleh Adumim together with a major supporter of the TALI school system. The two schools are very different.
Nofei Sela is a new school in a new building in a new neighborhood. But Sarit, the principal, and the leading teachers are veteran TALI educators who know exactly how to turn a secular Israeli public school into a TALI school in a short amount of time. There are already tefillot (services) every morning, posters all over the building with quotations from biblical and rabbinic sources, and we visited a class about road safety in which the kids learned tefilat haderekh , the prayer which is recited before one sets out on a journey.
Tzemah Hasadeh , on the other hand, is an established school in Ma’aleh Adumim which just became a TALI school, since the Mayor decided with the encouragement of Rabbi Chikli to turn all of the secular schools in Ma’aleh Adumim into TALI schools. “Yaki”, the principal, was not so enthusiastic at first but now he is a proponent of TALI. Five of the teachers, instead of the usual two, are enrolled in the special TALI M.A. track at the Schechter Institute every Wednesday and are very enthusiastic about their studies. I quizzed some second-graders about the holidays. They knew a lot about Rosh Hodesh which they had just studied, but still have a lot to learn about some of the other holidays.
I would like to share what I learned from Sarit about the weekly portion of Bo which we read ten days ago and what I learned from “Yaki” about the holiday of Tu B’shvat .
What I Learned from Sarit
The weekly portion of Bo contains three out of the four verses which serve as the basis for the four sons in the Haggadah. At the end of our visit, Sarit said that the Jews in Israel today resemble the four sons in the Haggadah:
The father, who lived in the Diaspora before making aliyah or who made aliyah shortly after 1948, was the hakham , the wise son. He knew all about our tradition and felt comfortable with it and did not see a contradiction between Judaism and Zionism.
The son, who founded the State of Israel, the generation of Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, was like the proverbial rasha , the rebel who rebelled against his father. He grew up with our tradition in the Diaspora but he rebelled against it and against the Diaspora, viewing Zionism as an alternative to Judaism.
The grandson who grew up in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s was like the tam , the simple son. He did not know much, but he could still go to the synagogue with his grandfather and learn some of the traditions by watching him at home.
The great-grandson, today’s generation, is she’eino yode’a lishol , the one who does not know how to ask. He does not know anything about Judaism and he has no-one to ask. His great-grandfather is no longer alive, his grandfather is still opposed to Judaism, and his father, even if he is interested in Judaism, doesn’t know enough to teach his son.
The prevalence of this type of great-grandson in Israel today was confirmed to me at Ben Gurion Airport last week. The young woman at the check-in counter, a 25-year-old Sabra, engaged me in the following conversation in Hebrew:
“I see you’re a Professor. May I ask of what?”
“What is Talmud? Is it like Tanakh (the Bible)?”
DG: “It is sort of like a twenty-volume commentary on the Tanakh .”
“Is it like the New Testament?”
DG: “No, not at all.”
She persisted: “So it’s from the period of the Tanakh ?”
DG: “No, it was written 1,000 years later.”
Then I asked: “Tell me, didn’t you learn Torah Shebe’al Peh in school (the oral law, the one hour a week in which Israeli kids are supposed to learn something about rabbinic Judaism)?”
She replied: “We did, but who remembers! It wasn’t serious.”
What I Learned from “Yaki”
Now I want to explain what I learned from “Yaki” about the holiday of Tu B’shvat . We walked into the school and, before we went into his office to meet with the five teachers mentioned above, he pulled me aside and he said: “Prof. Golinkin, do you remember that in the 1970s.” I interrupted him and I said: “You are “Yaki”!” and I traveled back thirty years in time.
In 1974 and 1975, when I was studying for my B.A. at Hebrew University, I ran a club for underprivileged children in Shmuel Hanavi, one of Jerusalem’s poorest neighborhoods. We met twice a week in order to learn about the holidays, go on field trips and the like. My goal was to teach them social skills and to teach them about the world outside of their neighborhood, since most of the children in Shmuel Hanavi did not go to high school and many of them ended up on drugs or as juvenile delinquents.
“Yaki” was one of “my kids” for two years. He had gone to high school and received a B.Ed. from a teachers’ seminary and an M.A. from Hebrew University and now he is the principal of a TALI school!
There is a famous verse in the Torah ” kee ha’adam eitz hasadeh ” (Deut. 20:19), which in context is a question: “Are trees of the field human” that we should cut them down when we besiege a city?! But some of the Sages understood the verse not as a question but as a positive statement: “A human being is like a tree”. Yes, indeed. When you teach a child or a young adult you never know how it is going to grow and usually you do not see how that child turns out. On January 23rd , I saw the tree I had planted and it was good.
From Sarit I learned that we at Schechter and TALI are the surrogate father, the surrogate hakham , who must teach hundreds of thousands of Israeli children she’enam yodim lishol who do not know how to ask or who have no-one to ask.
From “Yaki” I learned that as educators we plant seeds and frequently they turn out much better than we expected, just like the trees which we plant on Tu B’shvat .
All four volumes of Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin’s Responsa In A Moment – Halakhic Responses to Contemporary Issues as well as other books by the author are available for purchase from the Schocken-JTS Press Bookstore.
Prof. David Golinkin is the President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate the article, please contact Rabbi Golinkin at: email@example.com.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.
Photo: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=272084
David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.