Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition

Letters/Discussion Forums

‘Renewalists’ may be answer to secular Jews’ identity problems



Jared Joel

While the Progressive (Reform) and Masorti (Conservative) movements do exist in Israel, they have never gained much traction among the sabra population. Israelis are generally not attracted to the synagogue-centred, overtly religious, Diaspora-culture Judaism that these two movements provide. Progressive and Masorti movements are thus seen as culturally alien to the Israeli reality.

Instead, secular Israelis have created an indigenous alternative of their own – Hithadshut Yehudit or the Jewish Renewal movement (not to be confused with the neo-hippy, neo-hasidic American Jewish Renewal movement – that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Israeli Jewish Renewal movement).

The Israeli Jewish Renewal movement is in essence an intellectual and cultural movement that seeks to infuse Jewish identity with cultural meaning and purpose, by drawing on the rich traditions of Judaism and animating it within the context of a shared heritage in a modern, individualistic world. 

The movement has fostered intensive learning programmes all over Israel, wherein secular Israelis study Talmud, Kabbalah, halachah, and every other traditional text you can think of. 

There is even a secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv where men and women together learn from morning to night as intensively as they would in a religious yeshiva.

Additionally, some of the Israeli Jewish Renewalists have decided that just because they’re secular doesn’t necessarily have to mean that they don’t believe in G-d or that the Jewish tradition can’t assist us in building a relationship with Him. 

Therefor they have created batei tefilla (houses of prayer) all over Israel and have created mutually supportive communities of free-thinking, cultural Jews for whom Judaism is spiritually edifying and transformative but not dogmatic.

The Israeli Jewish Renewalists do all of the above with no assistance or guidance from the Orthodox rabbinate whatsoever; neither do they want it. It is a completely independent movement, and in fact, the Renewalists have started ordaining their own secular rabbis. The movement is experiencing strong growth, particularly among Ashkenazi secular Israelis and Russian olim.

Renewalists seek to exert control over all their own affairs of matters like marriages and cultural affirmations (which would essentially be their own form of conversion to Judaism).

Might I suggest that South African secular Jews with the same concerns as Beverly May has expressed, seek to create a similar such movement here? Maybe contact the Israeli movement to see how it’s done.


Sydenham, Johannesburg


Continue Reading


  1. Gary

    Mar 30, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    ‘Im not going to dignify Merlynn Edelstein with debating her and her revisionist garbage

    But I think it is wrong of SAJR to give her anti-Israel racist propaganda a platform in a Jewish newspaper We should not be subjected to the vomit she spews ‘

  2. Gary

    Mar 30, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    ‘Sorry – wrong letter’

  3. Mo

    Mar 31, 2016 at 9:28 am

    ‘Its called reform, nothing new, except the name.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.