Micah Goodman’s schedule for Wednesday night, May 18, looks something like this:
7:00 pm: Head to synagogue for Shavuot Eve service
8:00 pm: Back home for holiday dinner
9:30 pm: Help wife put kids to bed (*1)
10:30 pm: Walk to Beit Avi Chai on King George Street in Jerusalem (*2)
11:00 pm: Talk about the meaning of humanity according to Maimonides’ “Guide to the Perplexed” (he just wrote a book about it)
11:30 pm: Head over to Begin Center (*3)
12:00 am: Introduce three psychological readings of the biography of King David (Israel’s political crisis over the last ten years through reflections on King David)
1:00 am: Conclude remarks
1:15 am: Drink Diet Coke
1:30 am: Stroll over to Ramban Synagogue (*4)
2:00 am: Talk about the therapeutic actions of Elijah the Prophet
3:00 am: Head home
Micah Goodman (pronounced Mee-ha) isn’t a glutton for punishment. He’s a lecturer of Jewish thought, and Shavuot night, otherwise known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot, is his version of a rockin’ New Year’s Eve. That’s when he gets to bounce from audience to audience, talking about his topics to a range of listeners, gaining personal and professional insights from a night of free-range learning and thinking.
“What I like is the walk,” says Goodman, of his strolls between lectures around Jerusalem. “I get the variety of Israelis who share the sidewalk with me. Everyone’s walking from lecture to lecture and it got me thinking of the how the whole notion of ‘aliyah la’regel (the concept of going up to Jerusalem for the three major festivals) has been reinvented. It used to be that people would go to the Temple in Jerusalem. Now they go to the beit midrash (the house of learning). Jerusalem has been transformed into a great, passionate, pluralistic house of study.”
In the most literal of translations, Tikkun Leil Shavuot means the Repair of Shavuot Night. This custom of all-night Torah study dates back to a rabbinic story, which tells that the Israelites overslept on the day that the Torah was to be given to them. Moses had to wake them up and in order to fix this flaw in the national character, Jews were implored to stay up all night and study the Torah that was entrusted to them. The actual custom of staying up all night to learn only began in 1533, when Rabbi Joseph Caro encouraged his fellow Kabbalists of Ottoman Salonika to join him in an all-nighter.
In modern times, it was primarily Orthodox religious Jews who kept the all-night study vigil. But then, about fifteen years ago, secular, Reform and Conservative Israelis got involved as well. It began on the kibbutz and in certain, more liberal institutions. And then it got started in Tel Aviv, where various kinds of organizations began holding their own tikkunim, inviting scholars, writers, thinkers, musicians to hold forth on ideas and concepts.
In Jerusalem, there are hundreds of tikkunim in synagogues, community centers, institutions and homes. That’s what Micah Goodman appreciates about his hometown. “You have so many different places and every place has a different voice,” he says. “We have pluralism of places and the pluralism of the event is created by the people. There’s this great diverse crowd experiencing different things.”
Micah himself could be considered an amalgam of sorts. Born and raised in Jerusalem, his parents are American and he attended religious schools. He completed his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in Jewish philosophy at Hebrew University, and is currently teaching an introduction to Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed at his alma mater and is a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. He also established and is the head of the Ein Prat Academy for Leadership, a post-army program that recruits Israelis to its intensive program for figuring out life after the army, instead of heading to India.
Like his daily work, Micah’s tikkun teaching is about reaching a diverse crowd. He likes the fact that Beit Avi Chai will be hosting a mostly Anglo audience, as he will be speaking in English. He finds that Jerusalem’s English speakers bridge between the North American Jewish world and Israel, making them more classically Jewish and therefore challenging him.
At Begin, he expects a young Israeli crowd that spans the religious spectrum,“with cars parked outside,” he describes, by those who don’t religiously observe the holiday. The secular Jerusalemites come to the Begin Center because “they don’t feel comfortable in shuls,” explains Micah, and would rather be somewhere neutral. As opposed to his third destination, the Ramban Synagogue, which will be a religious crowd of singles and young couples, “Srugim” types, he says, referring to a currently popular Israeli TV show about young religious singles in Jerusalem. (Srugim refers to the type of knitted yarmulke worn by observant Jews.)
“I think the tikkun thing shows that there’s change in the Jewish world,” he said. “It used to be that people felt that knowledge of Judaism is only for the professionals. That was very unhealthy for society and for our culture. Now you see secular musicians inspired by Judaism; secular rabbis and secular batei midrash. Imagine Jerusalem as a giant beit midrash with all parts of society making aliyah (going up) to the city to study and learn.”