"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yrachmiel Tilles, Editor of the Ascent Quarterly


"Why are there so many different types of Orthodox shuls in Israel? Dozens ethnic groups, an even larger number of Chassidic dynasties, different 'Religious-Zionist' movements, lots more that defy brief catagorization, and each has their own shul. The shades of distinction between many of them seem so slight. Now that they are in the Jewish Land, why don't they assimilate and join each other instead of competing?"


Just because people pray in different shuls doesn't mean they don't get along. As long as there have been Jews, there have been a wealth of approaches and differences of opinions. But just because we are capable of interacting without problem doesn't mean the diversity should be obliterated. Who would want a large garden with only one kind of flower?

Each of the twelve tribes had its own special manner of worship. These distinctions were of deep significance, but they were not always easily apparent to an outside viewer. The princes of each tribe brought exactly the same dedication offerings, yet the Torah bothers to repeat the identical long list of components twelve times [Num. 7:12-96]. It takes 85 verses! Why do we have to endure this seemingly monotonous repetition? The Oral Teachings help us to see that the similarity is only superficial. The intentions of each tribe differed so greatly, both in general and in each particular detail, that from a spiritual perspective it can safely be said that the twelve offerings hardly resembled each other!

During the Mishnaic era, the schools of Hillel and Shammai had numerous disputes in Jewish Law. The Talmud points out that the opinions of Shammai and his adherents were nearly always strict, while those of Hillel and his followers were tempered by a recognition of human frailty. The cause of their contrasting approaches is explained in Kabbalah by tracing their soul roots to the divine attributes of Chessed and Gevurah [Kindness and Severity-i.e., mercy vs. justice]. Although the untrained eye may regard some of their disputes to be trivial, a more penetrating glance reveals, again, that seemingly slight distinctions are in reality a reflection of underlying deeper essence.

Sixteenth century Tsfat boasted one of the most influential halachic authorities in the last 1000 years, one of the very great masters of scriptural interpretation and one of the all-time seminal figures in the development and spread of the mystical teachings. R. Yosef Caro, R. Moshe Alsheich, and R. Yitzchak Luria ["Ari"] respectively each had many followers. The ARI explained that the discrepancies in their approaches and abilities stemmed from their souls being rooted in different spiritual worlds. Since they viewed each other's accomplishments from this deep perspective, there was no rivalry among them. On the contrary, each made a point of learning from the others. Nevertheless, it is unthinkable that these three great men, or any other leaders at the time, ever entertained the thought of merging the numerous shuls and yeshivas that had proliferated throughout the city.

Not only is it unneccessary for Jews to give up their old customs upon moving to the Holy Land, in many circumstances, such as an entire congregation arriving together, it would be improper to do so. Yes, it may seem perplexing that, for example, here in Tsfat today more than 80 shuls serve a population of less than 25,000. Nevertheless, let us glory in the kaleidoscope of vivid colors in our shared garden, and not carelessly uproot precious species in a pursuit of bland conformity.

Yrachmiel Tilles

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