Israeli Rabbinical Organization Celebrates 20 Years of Promoting Greater Jewish Unity and Education at Jerusalem Conference
In commemoration of 20 years since the organization’s founding, the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization held its Summer Conference with the attendance of 1,000 people including prominent politicians and communal leaders. Founded in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin by leading rabbinical figures of the Religious Zionist movement, the organization’s original mandate was to unite divided elements within Israeli society at a time of unprecedented internal tension.
Rabbi David Stav, among Tzohar’s founders who has come to be recognized as one of the leading voices in the religious Zionist world, spoke at the conference saying that while the activities of the organization have changed, the mandate remains focused on promoting Jewish unity both within Israel and abroad. “Our original goal was to promote educational and cultural programs that could be accessible to all Israeli Jews so that Jewish tradition and practice would be a uniting factor in our society,” he said. “While we have achieved much in that regard and established programs that have reached hundreds of thousands of Israelis, we know that much remains to be accomplished in terms of creating a more unified Israeli culture.”
Rav Yuval Cherlow, Chair of Tzohar’s Ethics Committee discussed the conflict between the public’s “right to know” versus national security interests and how that debate is resolved through Jewish law and morality. He explored how this issue is a central point of focus in defining Jewish identity by uncovering our connection both to the land and the nation while also remaining true to our ancient appreciation for religious values and traditions. “While these two values might seemingly be in conflict with each other, the modern Israeli experience has proven that every such challenge can be resolved and this is the great opportunity of living in and governing a nation in the twenty-first century while still embracing the lessons of the past.”
The conference, which attracted senior political personalities including Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked and Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Zev Elkin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, came amidst a period of controversy over the place of religion and rabbis in the public discourse. “Our message has always been that the role of a rabbi is not simply to teach and inspire but to also be relevant to the greater society,” said Yakov Gaon, Executive Vice President of Tzohar. “This requires an approach where we have worked to make religion accessible to young Israelis without alienating them which is all too often the case when it comes to the interface between Jewish practice and the Israeli public which is primarily secular.”
Tzohar’s main efforts therefore have been its wedding program which has helped over 50,000 couples marry according to halacha as well as helping thousands prove their Jewish roots and ongoing social, educational and cultural programs that promote religion without any attempt at coercion.
“The past twenty years have proven that despite the challenges and tensions which remain in Israel, there is a thirst among the general Jewish population to be educated and embrace their Judaism,” said Rabbi Stav. “In viewing such a large gathering of Israeli Jews coming together to be educated and confront the key issues of today gives us great pride and confidence in the importance of Tzohar’s work. It also reinforces the belief that together we can create a better and stronger Jewish society and help Israel achieve its true potential as the modern state of all the Jewish people.”