Big-Tent Judaism

Friday, 17 February, 2023 - 1:08 pm

Did you know that 1,500 (mostly) Jewish Tulane students celebrated Shabbat last week under one “big-tent?”

We hear the phrase big-tent used to describe a phenomenon in which an attempt is made to bring a broader spectrum of people into an experience, an ideology, or a group.  

Sometimes the tent is made big through a shift of ideals to make it more appealing to folks that may have felt excluded previously. However, the tent can also be widened through raising awareness that what folks may have though was exclusive of them, is actually something that they can very much embrace and be a part of.

3,300 years ago, G-d planted this concept into the Torah. Just before Moses passes away, and the people enter the promised land, G-d gave the Mitzvah of Hakhel.

“At the end of [every] seven years, at an appointed time… When all Israel comes to appear before the L-rd, your G-d, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears. Assemble the people: the men, the women, and the children… in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and revere the L-rd, your G-d, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah.”

By having the people, men, women, and children, gather and hear words that are uplifting and inspiring, this can broaden the number of people that feel included in the tent of Judaism.

This is the mandate of Chabad in general. Especially this year, which is the calendar year in which that Hakhel assembly would take place if we had a Temple, the mandate becomes that much more compelling.  

Last Friday night, Chabad at Tulane assembled 1,500 students to celebrate their Jewish identity. (See a video taken just before Shabbat began of students singing Oseh Shalom together. “Assemble the people … in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and revere the L-rd, your G-d.”

Later that weekend, on Sunday night, a gathering of 4,000 Shluchos (Chabad Women Emissaries) was held. At the event, Israeli media personality Sivan Rahav-Meir declared that was in one of the most influential rooms of the Jewish world. 4,000 communal leaders, each serving as a powerful influence in their respective communities around the globe. They had representatives from six continents (all but Antarctica) lead a roll call of Chabad Shluchos from each country in their continent of origin. Each of these women serves the role of “you shall read this Torah before all Israel.”


This is Big-Tent Judaism reimagined. The Torah doesn’t change. Tradition is the same. But the tent gets bigger and bigger.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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