The Talmud contains tractates of the opinions of thousands of rabbis on a variety of subjects including ethics, philosophy, law, customs, history, and theology. It has two parts—Mishnah, the first written compendium of Judaism’s Oral Law, and Gemara, explanation and clarification of the Mishnah and other related writings. Torah is the first five books of the Bible, containing the continuous narrative of the Jewish people beginning with Creation. These boys spend hours of intense study daily in lectures and classes and in “chevruta,” a traditional way of studying in which pairs of students of similar knowledge and ability analyze, discuss, and debate a text.
You may have seen some of these boys out for a walk in West Dover or in Wilmington, easily recognizable by their black pants, white shirts, skullcaps (often called a “beanie” in English, “yarmulke” in Yiddish, or “kippah” in Hebrew). They wear tzit-tzit under their shirts, with fringes often hanging out. Tzit-tzit are specially-knotted ritual fringes attached to the four corners of a prayer shawl (“tallis” in Yiddish; “tallit” in Hebrew). According to the Torah, the purpose of wearing tzitzit is to remind Jews of their obligation to fulfill God’s commandments.
Wearing a kippah is not a religious commandment. Rather, it is a Jewish custom that has come to be associated with showing respect for God, perhaps derived from the custom in the Middle Ages of covering one’s head in the presence of royalty. Since God is often referred to in Jewish prayers as King of the Universe, it seems logical to cover one’s head during prayer, which is a means of approaching the divine. In addition, wearing a head covering even when not at prayer is a sign of respect and reverence, acknowledging God’s presence everywhere.
These young men were here in the Deerfield Valley for three weeks of summer camp. They love our valley and say they are especially appreciative of the fresh air. In fact, their camp is called “Yeshiva Gutte Luftig,” or the Good Air School. The camp, based at the Snow Lake Lodge, was established here about six years ago and has grown from 65 campers to 200. Because they are Orthodox Jews who eat only kosher foods, they bring all their food with them and totally take over the inn, including koshering the kitchen and dining areas. They carry on their yeshiva studies and prayers for part of the day and have camp activities, games, and field trips for the remainder of the day. They play basketball, soccer, and volleyball at Twin Valley High School; they hike and canoe at Woodford State Park; they enjoy area attractions such as the Bromley Adventure Park. Above all, they say, they appreciate the wonderful fresh air of our mountains and are thankful for the kindness of Deerfield Valley people and the new-found fans of their lively volleyball games.
These fresh air campers are “Modern Orthodox” Jews, representing one kind of Jewish practice. Among the many streams of Jewish practice are Haredi (the most theologically conservative, ultra-orthodox practice of Judaism), Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, New Age – all practicing Jews, but practicing in different manners and styles. Outside of these organized religious movements, we find many secular Jews or cultural Jews, and even Jewish atheists -- people who regard themselves as Jewish but are not affiliated with a particular movement or synagogue. They may attend religious services rarely or not at all. However, all Jews, regardless of what they believe or how they practice, can be considered part of “Klal Yisrael,” an all-embracing concept of the worldwide community of Jews.
In this context, “Yisrael” (Israel) refers to Jews all over the world, not specifically to the state of Israel. “Klal Yisrael” is based on a feeling of shared community among Jews, including all the streams of organized Judaism, all ethnic and national backgrounds, all degrees of religious and nonreligious beliefs and practices. Jewish people hoping to live in peace in the communities and countries in which they find themselves, respected by and respectful of people whose faith and beliefs may be different from theirs.