A Shavuot White Night, in the Style of the White City

The Shavuot late-night or all-night Torah study sessions have long been heralded as an Israeli tradition. Nonetheless, battalions of PR agents are promoting the "holiday events" this year as a new trend.

The Shavuot late-night or all-night Torah study sessions (Tikkun Leil Shavuot ) have long been heralded as an Israeli tradition. Nonetheless, battalions of PR agents are promoting the "holiday events" this year as a new trend, or as a promo for a new season of "Dancing With The Stars."

The press releases emitted by fax on the holiday eve offer a great many events. "A variety of rabbis, artists, journalists, politicians and jurists on one stage: Such a panel has not been seen on Tel Aviv stages for a long time," (the Tzohar Rabbis organization ); or "You can choose from an abundance of lessons, workshops and tours, or simply sit in a bar and discuss with the person sitting beside you the question on your beer glass's coaster," (Bina, the secular yeshiva in Tel Aviv ), to name just a couple.

The ancient tradition of Shavuot study nights dates back to the Kabbalistic Jewish work the Zohar, the Book of Splendor, attributed to the second-century rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

It is customary to stay awake all night on the holiday eve and study Torah as preparation for the holiday in which each person accepts the Torah. Throughout the generations some have preferred to study alone, others in groups - everything goes. But in this generation of security threats, massive gatherings seem to be the latest thing.

The "Torah" has always been a fluid matter that even our sages liked to take out of context. Until a few years ago the "Torah" was seen by some teachers as "text" (and yet the study session leaders have always taken a conservative approach to the famous Talmudic text "Achnai's Oven," without which no Shavuot night-study session is complete ).

Today the definitions are even more fluid, and "Torah" could be a performance, a play, a movie or even a coffee corner. Everything is "Torah," including the panels in the tikkun offered by Alma College, focusing on texts about sex and sexuality.

The study sessions come in several versions, mainly the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv versions. The Jerusalem version is religious-friendly - refraining from the use of loudspeakers and paid tickets. The Tel Aviv one is secular-friendly - as reflected in a more flexible program. Another distinction is that in Tel Aviv many of those participating in the study sessions are middle-aged culture consumers, while in Jerusalem they are mostly young and single.

Both versions have one thing in common: Every institution has its own list of celebrities and the study session programs gives the impression that the thing to do on Shavuot is name-dropping. Studying with the stars.

Regardless of the chosen study theme, each city has its popular session leaders who would suit any discussion at any time. Tel Aviv has Yair Lapid and Yochi Brandes, Jerusalem has Dr. Micha Goodman and Rabbi Benny Lau. The most wanted leaders, the real tzadiks like Rabbi Yisroel (Israel ) Ben Eliezer (the Baal Shem Tov ), whose 250th Yahrzeit is marked this holiday, seem to be in two-three panels at the same time.


Alma College

Located in the Tel Aviv Museum, Tel Aviv.

Concept: Folksy but chic, mainly due to the panels' location in the museum's exhibition spaces. This year's topics are "Eros and Love," "Song of Songs" and the "Book of Ruth."

Name dropping: Assaf Inbari, Gil Kopatch, Maya Bejerano, Zali Gurevitch.

Audience: Mostly from the 42 percent of the Jews who describe themselves as secular, aged 42 or more.

Dress code: Comme Il Faut (women ).


Beit Daniel, the Center for Progressive Judaism (Reform Movement ).

Location: Near the Yarkon River, Tel Aviv.

Concept: "The unique aspect of primary action."

Name dropping: Yair Lapid, Yochi Brandes, Dudu Tasa, Professor Yair Zakowitz, Eshkol Nevo.

Audience: Reform community members, Yair Lapid fans, Israelis who have the entire Am Hasefer (a publishing house ) series at home and the like.

Dress code: Mixed. Kippa wearers - both men and women - welcome.


Beit Avi Chai cultural center

Location: King George street, Jerusalem

Concept: Religious intellectual, suitable for secular people as well, a variety of lectures on the subject of "Man."

Name dropping: Professor Avigdor Shinan, Doron Tavori, Dr. Meir Buzaglo, Judge Dvora Berliner.

Audience: Urban religious and secular people.

Dress code: A sweater, in any weather.


Tzohar rabbis' organization

Location: Four sites in Tel Aviv: Brodet Center, ZOA House, Beit El Synagogue and a Tish (Hasidic celebration ) on Frishman beach at dawn.

Concept: Mixed - amiable religious people and secular folk who like amiable religious people.

Name dropping: Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, Rabbi Shai Piron, Yair Lapid, Jacky Levy, Uri Orbach, Tzipi Hotovely.

Audience: Mixed.

Dress code: mixed.


Yeshurun Central Synagogue

Location: city center, Jerusalem

Concept: Old school.

Name dropping: Rabbi Yona Metzger.

Audience: Yekkes from Rehavia, professors and/or Mizrahi vets and American ultra-Orthodox tourists from nearby hotels.

Dress code: conservative (men and women ). "