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Rav Ariel: Mending Rifts in an Age of Conflict

Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Updated: Sunday, March 11, 2012 20:03

On February 13 Rav Yaakov Ariel, the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan and one of the leading rabbis of the religious Zionist movement, delivered an empowering speech to the women of SCW, entitled "Politics in the Public Sphere: The Intersection Between Faith and Policy in Israel." The lecture and subsequent Q&A session were moderated by Rabbi Yosef Blau, SCW's Senior Mashgiach Ruchani. Ariel addressed an array of issues facing the current Israeli political spectrum at the moment, ranging from dati leumi/haredirelations, women's role in religion and in the state, and the importance ofaliyah.

Though the event was "coordinated and advertised rather last minute, the turnout exceeded our expectations," said Rachel Benaim, SCW '13, the co-president of TAC's Torah Scholarship Lecture Series (TSLS), which helped bring Ariel to SCW. "The fact that it was in Hebrew didn't even deter people from coming," she noted.

Ariel did, in fact, address the crowd in Hebrew; however, for those less confident in their linguistic skills, Natalie Taylor, director of the CJF's Women's Leadership Initiative sat at the computer and manually transcribed and translated Ariel's lecture onto a projector screen. "I was excited about the presentation being in Hebrew," commented Estie Hirt, SCW '13. "It gave me confidence that I am able to understand complex, current issues in the language most relevant." 

Rav Yaakov Ariel is as hard-core Israeli as they come – he was born and raised in Jerusalem, and spent time studying in Mercaz Harav as a prevalent student of Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook. Ariel later served as Rosh Yeshiva in the abandoned Israeli settlement of Yamit, in the Sinai Desert, until 1982. He is currently the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv, and the head of Rabbanei Tzohar, an organization that addresses the "desperate need to unify Israel's fragmented society," according to its website. While there is controversy surrounding Tzohar, its programs, stances, and activism deserve recognition, and so Rav Yaakov Ariel addressed them briefly at the end of his lecture.

Ariel explained some of the key events and outreach programs run by Tzohar. For example, every Shavuot night, thousands of non-Orthodox and Orthodox join together to learn Torah all night. Tzohar wants to expand this program to more cities throughout Israel. On Yom Kippur, they set up minyanim for the non-religious in many kibbutzim and areas where there is little connection to halakha. There are Tzohar Rabbis who help to explain to different people in the Knesset what halakha says about various issues. They train Rabbis,to whom non-Orthodox individuals can relate to perform marriage ceremonies.

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