By Yair Hoffman
This week, prior to Tishah B’Av, a remarkable sanctification of G-d’s Name took place in the city of Harish, by people who describe themselves as “Garin Torani.” This group stood up for Shabbos in such an outstanding way that a tender for the establishment of an “Urban Country Club” in the city of Harish that would be open on Shabbos was shelved because there were zero—zero—entrepreneurs who submitted bids for the tender.
But it wasn’t chareidim who accomplished this. It was people associated with the Garin Torani movement of the Shaalei Torah organization. Most of us in the United States never heard of the Garin Torani movement. It is a movement that should be supported by all observant Jews, from Modern Orthodox to chareidi, because it has effected remarkable organic change. Let’s get a bit of background.
Last year, the New York Times described this movement as “part of a loosely organized nationwide project known as Torah Nucleus … their intention is to lift up poor and neglected areas on the margins of society, particularly in mixed cities, and to enrich Jewish life there. Its supporters have moved into dozens of Israeli cities and towns.”
The Garin Torani movement was established to aid development towns in Israel, beginning with Kiryat Shemonah in 1968. Later, groups were sent to Beit Shemesh, Ma’alot-Tarshiha, Eilat, Yerucham, Tzfas, Lod, and many others. The main mission is to effect social change in neglected communities through providing role models, enthusiasm, and the promotion of Jewish values. The goal is to increase stability and social integration, as well as productivity and connection to Torah.
They establish religious schools and youth groups in the community. They reach out to families in need and children at-risk through the establishment of a “Bayit Cham” which offers afterschool and summer programs for children at risk. They distribute food packages before the holidays, delivered personally by Garin members, reaching out both financially and socially. In addition to social development and integration, they infuse an understanding of Torah and Jewish values and create a positive religious experience through Torah classes, holiday events, and educational programs.
The city of Harish is located near Haifa and a couple of years ago was labeled by archaeologists as the New York City of the Mideast due to the discoveries that were found.
As reported on Arutz Sheva, only two entrepreneurs were interested in the details of the tender and purchased the tender brochure, but neither submitted an offer for the bid itself.
The tender was for the construction of a municipal pool in Harish, which would have also included a gym, sauna, Jacuzzi, and a variety of facilities for city residents.
One of the conditions in the tender was to operate the facility on Shabbat as well. “The operator will operate the club for 7 days a week,” the tender conditions stated. It continued, “on Saturdays and holidays between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.”
The municipality did reserve the right to later approve the closing of the country club on Shabbat, but under the terms of the tender, the operator had to agree to operate the place on Shabbat as well.
The condition that the operators be prepared to open the facilities on Shabbos elicited a reaction from Garin Torani rabbis and residents.
A public letter written by Garin Torani rabbis in Harish reads: “The public observance of Shabbat in Harish is one of the most important foundations of our growing city; it is our right and it is the responsibility of all of us. The vast majority of the city’s residents know and feel this, and hope that Harish will observe Shabbat in all its public spaces. We are called to act all the time in order to strengthen the observance of Shabbat in the public space of our city, and to demand the honor of the Shabbat be maintained in Harish.
“Establishing a country club that will be officially declared open on Shabbat and Jewish holidays is a serious blow to the beating heart of our city—the sanctity of the public Shabbat in Harish. A new city that is being established and developing in the Land of Israel deserves that its public Shabbat service match the spirit of Israel.
“We call on the city council to withdraw its intention to lend a hand to the opening of the Country Club on Shabbat and to work for the observance of Shabbat in all our public spaces,” they wrote. “We call on the general public to make their intentions clear to the city’s financiers, because they will not want to use a place that will engrave on their flag the trampling of the sanctity of the Shabbat in our city. Harish is worthy, a great city in Israel, in which the sanctity of the Shabbat must be recognized and felt.”
This was an extraordinary accomplishment and reflects the fact that Shabbos has always been viewed as the symbol or flag of the Jewish nation.
Just as patriots look at their flag as more than a mere dyed cloth with fancy designs, so too is Shabbos viewed in the eyes of the Jewish people. The Sheiltos of Rav Achai Gaon explains that G-d has instructed us to rest on Shabbos, just as He rested from all creative acts on Shabbos. Observing Shabbos is a sign of our deep belief in G-d—that it was He who Created the world. Not observing the Sabbath is like stepping on the flag.
It is not just Jews who have an abiding belief in G-d. A Gallup poll taken in June of 2016 of over 1,000 Americans in all 50 states showed that 89% of Americans believe in G-d. This figure has been constant since Gallup first started surveying this in the 1940s.
But for Jews, it is more than this.
Our belief in G-d is not just limited to the notion that an omnipotent entity created the world. No. An integral aspect of Torah theology is that this omnipotent entity is the source of all good.
He rewards good and punishes evil. The Jewish understanding of G-d and His unique Oneness is that ethics and monotheism are intrinsically interwoven with each other.
In other theologies they may be two separate concepts. Not so in Judaism.
A belief in the Oneness of G-d perforce also includes the notion that He defines what goodness is. Altruism, goodness, and ethical behavior are not the results of evolutionary biology—they are part and parcel of the Creator Himself.
Indeed, this is the raison d’être of Creation itself—so that G-d Al-mighty can reward those who follow His will. If, in the path of life, we successfully attempt to both emulate G-d and follow His instructions, then we will be rewarded.
The observance of Shabbos is thus the flag of the Jewish people, and has been so throughout history.
Speaking of history, 2,000 years ago, Roman civilization dominated the world. Many nations have battled the Romans, Mithridates, the Parthians, the Sassanians, and especially the Carthaginians. The Carthaginians had three major wars with the Romans and lost the last and most critical one. The Romans destroyed the city of Carthage.
The Incas and the Aztecs were highly evolved civilizations in the Americas. The Spanish conquerors destroyed these civilizations approximately 500 years ago. These people assimilated into the melting pot of what is now Latin America.
It is unimaginable to think that these civilizations, the Carthaginians, the Incas, and Aztecs could survive intact after these long centuries “exiled,” so to speak, from their homeland or city and deprived of their socio-religious cultural center.
It is even more unimaginable for these civilizations, after many long centuries of such an exile, to return to their land. Finally, it is entirely inconceivable that the homeland remained unimproved and uncultivated for those many long centuries, until its people had returned.
Yet, this is precisely what happened to the Jewish people.
The Romans conquered the land of Israel. On Tishah B’Av, they destroyed the Temple. They ransacked Jerusalem and exiled the Jewish people.
Josephus (Wars of the Jews 7:1:1) writes that Jerusalem “was so thoroughly razed to the ground by those that demolished it to its foundations, that nothing was left that could ever persuade visitors that it had once been a place of habitation.” The Romans renamed the holy city of Jerusalem “Aelia Capitolina.” The Jews were exiled and spread throughout the western world. There they remained for 20 centuries.
All of this leads to the fact that there is a G-d that runs the world. G-d is clearly concerned with the destiny of the Jewish people. G-d, according to the sacred writings of the Jewish people, rewards good and punishes evil.
Indeed, G-d, in the eyes of Judaism, is the essence of all that is good. All this was revealed to the Jewish nation at the foot of Mount Sinai. This occurred over 3,300 years ago.
The Jewish people were given a unique mission. The mission is to declare the concept of G-d and the obligation to emulate Him in all we do—in all our actions. This mission has only been partially completed. The vast majority of the peoples of the world are only somewhat aware of G-d, and have a woefully incomplete picture.
Judaism has always felt that concepts and ideas are not enough—they must be accompanied by action. For example, a person who wishes to become a master musician cannot merely peruse the musical notes of a concerto but must actually practice music. Hours and hours of practice are necessary. By the same token, a student of the martial arts cannot become a proficient fighter merely by reading a karate instruction manual. Years and years of practice are required for proficiency and expertise to develop.
The prophets of Israel speak of the noble ideals of universal peace, brotherhood, seeking truth and justice, and walking humbly before G-d. They speak of the notion of hakaras ha’tov—recognizing the good that has been done for them. But Judaism requires that these noble ideas be put into action through the vehicle known as mitzvah.
Thus, there is a commandment to give charity. There is a commandment to recite a short formula thanking G-d for the bread that we have consumed. And the observance of Shabbos is no different.
The concept of G-d to the genuine Sabbath observer is tangible and real. The exodus from Egypt is as genuine and vivid to the Sabbath observer as is the placing of a man on the moon during the Apollo space missions in the 1960s.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin faced an irreligious Knesset membership when he argued that El Al, Israel’s national airline, should not be flying on Shabbos.
He began: “Forty years ago, I returned from exile to Eretz Yisrael. Engraved in my memory still are the lives of millions of Jews, simple, ordinary folk, eking out a livelihood in that forlorn Diaspora where the storms of anti-Semitism raged. They were not permitted to work on the Christian day of rest, and they refused to work on their day of rest. For they lived by the commandment, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.’ So each week they forswore two whole days of hard-won bread. This meant destitution for many. But they would not desecrate the Sabbath day.
“Shabbos is one of the loftiest values in all of humanity; it originated with us. It is all ours. No other civilization in history knew of a day of rest. Ancient Egypt had a great culture whose treasures are on view to this day, yet the Egypt of antiquity did not know of a day of rest. The Greeks of old excelled in philosophy and the arts, yet they did not know of a day of rest. Rome established mighty empires and instituted a system of law still relevant to this day, yet they did not know of a day of rest. Neither did the civilizations of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, India, China—none of them knew of a day of rest.
“One nation alone sanctified Shabbos, a small nation, the nation that heard the voice at Sinai—so that your man-servant and your maid-servant may rest as well as you.’ Ours was the nation that enthroned Shabbos as sovereign Queen.”
“So, are we in our own reborn Jewish state to allow our blue-and-white El Al planes to fly to and fro as if broadcasting to the world that there is no Shabbos in Israel? Should we, who by faith and tradition heard the commandment at Sinai, now deliver a message to all and sundry through our blue-and-white El Al planes—‘No, don’t remember the Sabbath day. Forget the Sabbath day! Desecrate the Sabbath day.’ I shudder at the thought.”
The Garin Torani movement has effected remarkable change across Eretz Yisrael. We should highlight what they have accomplished and support them. Through unity, we can undo the Churban that happened on Tishah B’Av.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.