HeHaCham HaYomi uses a different language based on significant social values from the rich Jewish sources, sparking a dialogue on issues such as tolerance, religious moderation, human rights, respect for all people, and social justice, etc. The tolerant and moderate values that Sephardic and Mizrachi Rabbis wrote about aimed to preserve the homogeneity of the community which is needed in the current polarized environment in the State of Israel. The Sephardic and Mizrachi Rabbis propounded creative ideas and values both orally and in their writings in the form of Drashot, interpretations, Kabbala and Piyut and Halacha in a style that was easily accessible for everyone to understand yet however is now at risk from being lost. (Better to discuss values, rather than Drashot and Halachot; not everybody can relate to this. We are trying to make the text accessible to as many Hebrew and English-speakers as possible.
In the modern State of Israel, that increasingly witnesses the rise of extremism along with social, economic, political and religious polarization; the need has never been greater for the Sephardic and Mizrachi heritage that espoused tolerant and moderate values of ‘Social Judaism’ that emphasizes Jewish values, celebrates the diversity of its traditions and places them in a social and democratic context. Judaism is multifaceted including both laws as well as promoting social justice. As a result, Social Judaism can promote a civic culture that embraces diversity as HaChacham HaYomi conveys the unique Sephardic and Mizrachi heritage that offers an open and inclusive Jewish identity to promote social values as a central aspect of tradition. The rich Jewish tradition of Sephardic Jewry and Jews from Islamic lands (Mizrachim), and specifically the open and fruitful meeting of this tradition with modernity, promotes a moderate and inclusive Jewish identity that does not impose its values; a Judaism in whose center are social values – morality, ethics, humanity. All of these are “gifts” that are worthy to be shared with all of Israeli society, so that the Jewish Mizrachi heritage will not be limited to Mizrachim alone, but rather will have the potential to share an identity that goes beyond ethnicity, to create a shared base that is not sectorial, but that includes all of Israel.
The Sephardic and Mizrachi heritage is not merely inclusive of all Jews, but creates solidarity with our non-Jewish brethren. Examples of this can be found in the writings of Sephardic and Mizrachi Rabbis such as Hacham Hezekiyah Shabtai (1862-1955) wrote in his book, Divrei Hizkiahu, "Love your fellow as yourself," ‘that a man love his fellow man, and come to his assistance, is not merely between Israel and their brethren, but extends to our neighbors – who are not Jews. One must be loving with them, and pursue their wellbeing and benefit. We are obligated to do so not only because it is common sense, but by the holy Torah, whose ways are pleasant ways, and all its paths are peace… And if they are, heaven forbid, in distress, we are also obligated to share in their distress and be in sorrow for them… in the sense that we are certainly obligated to all the nations and it is our duty to love them, as a man loves his fellow man.’ Hacham Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi (1922-1996) echoed this in his book, ‘Sod Midrash Hatoladot A, Malcei Tzedek’, that, ‘Derech Eretz - the way of the land’ entails acknowledging that I have been created and that I have been granted my existence by the Creator… I must also acknowledge that the other is a creation of the same Creator as well and that we both share a task, which is to foster brotherhood, through mutual respect between two individuals. This morality is accepted non-Jews, principally among the Righteous of the Nations who understood the importance of adopting and cultivating the values of brotherhood and mutual respect that are, in a sense, the prelude to sanctity. The Righteous of the Nations have the sincere intention to construct a human society in which the other is protected and can live.’ Similarly, Hacham Avraham David Shalem 1929-2014 wrote in his book, ‘Eshed Hanechlim,’ ‘…to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right. The human world and its society will bring waste and destruction upon the entire universe unless their wisdom and research are not integrated with justice and charity, truth and equality, and with the right to exist for all those created in the Divine image, with no discrimination of race, color or religion.’
HeHacham HaYomi is spearheading this cultural renaissance in Israeli culture and has over 600 pages of Sages from the writings of the Sephardic and Mizrachi Sages, including 3,000 different sources from 40 countries. HeHacham HaYomi is accessed by thousands of users each month, with the aim of reaching 1,000 Sages. Each Sage has a page of learning, including his life story and short excerpts of his writings related to the subjects of: “Love of Israel”, “Charity and Healing”, “Torah Study”, “Customs of Israel”, “Traditions of the Fathers”, “Redemption of Israel”, and “Israel and its Neighbors”. These teachings promote a moderate Jewish and civic identity that is open and inclusive, infused with social values – morality, ethics and humanity as a central tenet of the Jewish tradition for Israeli society.
KIAH has used HeHacham HaYomi to develop content and pedagogical tools that has informed curriculums used by teachers in all of KIAH’s programs including Morasha and Ma’arag respectively as well as in programs of Sha’arei Uziel Beit Midrash and Memizrach Shemesh. HeHacham HaYomi serves as a resource for KIAH’s educational booklets on the relationship of social justice with Jewish festivals or other religious themes such as “Sages’ Coats: Midrashim on Tzedakah and Tzedek’ and ‘Shabbat Shalom’ combining sayings from the Sephardic and Mizrachi Sages with the words of Talmudic Sages, as well as modern texts, poetry and literature. These booklets are used in schools, Batei Midrash, Synagogues and learning venues throughout the country by youth leaders, Rabbis, educators and public figures. Quotes from HeHacham HaYomi have been used in posters placed across Jerusalem on the plight of the poor and social justice to spark a debate in the public sphere on these issues. HeHacham HaYomi is a resource for Knesset members and parliamentary advisors on social justice and human rights matters related to civic identity. After being presented at the Knesset’s Sub-committee for Education, Knesset members from across the political spectrum discussed the importance of how HaHacham HaYomi exemplified the values of tolerance, moderation and respect for human dignity and the need to distribute HaHacham Hayomi educational materials within the formal educational system.
To this end, 10th graders who receive their first teudat zehut (identity cards) learn the language of democracy from HeHacham HaYomi’s texts on social values and Jewish/Israeli identity along with stories of their own communities. This enables pupils to feel proud of their heritage, and address issues such as racism, and intolerance. The pride people take in their roots and inclusive heritage fosters social mobility and economic advancement in the cosmopolitan landscape.
Our committed partners include: AVI CHAI Foundation, Adelis Foundation, The Montefiore Endowment, Posen Foundation, Jonathan Lopatin, Kahanoff Foundation .