Gabriel Abensour


The three Masorti discourses agree that tradition should play an important role in the building of Jewish identity and in the Israeli cultural-social sphere. However, Jewish heritage is not a monolith; it consists of many different traditions and voices, some central and others marginal, some old and some new. There is a basic consensus regarding the Jewish people’s inalienable assets – the Bible, the Talmud, Kabbalah, Chassidut, and more. But each side feels an obligation to cultivate, to ensure the presence of, and to place the spotlight on its unique heritage that coalesced over the past few centuries. The Masorti-Mizrahi sector, for example, has in different ways promoted the heritage of Middle Eastern/North African Jews in general, and of the Sephardi rabbinical world in particular. Projects such as HeHaCham HaYomi (“The Daily Sage”), or the book Kol HaTor, Traditional Sephardic Zionism, edited by Ophir Toubul, are part of this trend. The Masorti-secular world is no less engaged in cultivating and preserving its spiritual roots and the sources of its identity. Thus, the Shadmot circle dealt extensively with the Jewish identity of the halutzim and the Second Aliyah immigrants. Thinkers such as Moti Zeira and Muki Tsur labor over the biographies of Second Aliyah figures so as to ensure their presence in the Israeli space generally, and in the secular space specifically.

Heritage is thus not exactly identical across the various Masorti subgroups. Some embrace the secular halutzim as members, while others include the Middle Eastern/North African rabbis of recent generations. Some view Halacha as something that cannot be changed even if it is not observed, while others believe in the creation of a new Israeli Halacha. Ruth Calderon, for example, describes her heritage and its contemporary processing as follows:

Through appropriation of the traditional raw materials – the Bible, the Mishna, the Gemara, Kabbalah, Chassidut, piyyut, prayer, modern Hebrew literature, the Zionist literature, the halutzim, and the Hebrew intellectuals in Israel and abroad – the language in which the traditional-historical dream is realized is being rebuilt.128

Each side subtracts and adds and, in particular, ranks differently the importance of the various components of Jewish tradition. The literature of the halutzim that the secular Jewish renewal circles view as central is almost nonexistent in the Mizrahi circles, which themselves emphasize the heritage of Middle Eastern/North African Jewry. Here as well, the halachic subgroups attach prime importance to the rabbinical literature, while other Mizrahi-Masorti subgroups will add the secular intellectuals associated with those subgroups, such as Jacqueline Kahanoff and Jacques Derrida. The religious-Masorti subgroup moves between the two and also concerns itself with the connection between them. This trend can be seen with particular clarity in Micah Goodman’s Philosophic Roots of the Secular-Religious Divide (later translated as: The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity), which openly draws inspiration both from Religious-Zionist thinkers and from the MENA rabbis. To a certain extent, projects such as Ein Prat, Midreshet Hashiluv Natur, and other educational centers for “spectrum Jews” are an essential part of the attempt to expand Jewish heritage to all of these spheres.

Despite these important differences, we see again that both sides are moved by the same inner promptings. Each side wants to broaden its horizons by ensuring the presence of its specific heritage within a broader traditional-national story. At one end, secular-Jewish renewal is trying to incorporate its cultural heroes – the halutzim of the Second Aliyah – into the Masorti-Jewish spectrum. At the other end, Mizrahi Masortiyut is reinterpreting the heritage of its rabbis and thinkers so that they, too, can be connected to the halutzi-Zionist ethos.