Ḥol HaMoed - Unholy Gatherings and how Secular Culture can inspire Judaism

Chol HaMoed (Hebrew: חול המועד‎), is the term used to describe the weekdays of a festival, but since the root of the word Ḥol means non-holy and since the modern-day term to describe secular Jews and Secular Jewish Culture is Ḥiloni, it also presents an opportunity to explore the place of secularism in Judaism. Similarly Moed means a set time (as in a festival) or a set place (as in the Ohel Moed - Tent of Meeting), Moed provides a good context to explore the intersection of secularism with Judaism in both ritual and religious institutions.

(לב) וְלֹ֤א תְחַלְּלוּ֙ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֔י וְנִ֨קְדַּשְׁתִּ֔י בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶֽם׃
(32) You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people—I the LORD who sanctify you,
Strong's Concordance
chalal: pierce
Original Word: חָלַל
Part of Speech: Verb
Transliteration: chalal
Phonetic Spelling: (khaw-lal')
Definition: to bore, pierce


III. [חָלַל] verb pollute, defile, profane;

Hiph`il also begin (literally untie, loosen, open, see Arabic) (Arabic untie, undo, become free, lawful, free from obligation or tie; IV. make lawful; x. esteem lawful or free, profane, desecrate, violate; Late Hebrew חלל be profane, desecrated (also Pi`el Hiph`il transitive), compare Aramaic חֲלַל Pa`el is purify, Aph`el is profane) —

Niph`al Perfect נִחָ֑ל Ezekiel 25:3, נִחַלְתְּ (תִּי- Co) Ezekiel 22:16, נִחֲלוּ Ezekiel 7:24; Imperfect יֵחָ֑ל Isaiah 48:11, תֵּחֵל Leviticus 21:9, וָאֵחַל Ezekiel 22:26; Infinitive הֵחֵל Ezekiel 20:9,14,22, suffix לְהֵחַלּוֺ Leviticus 21:4. —

1 reflex. pollute, defile oneself

a. ritually, by contact with dead "" טמא, Leviticus 21:4 (H).

b. sexually "" זנה Leviticus 21:9 (H).

2 Pass., be polluted, defiled, of holy places Ezekiel 7:24; Ezekiel 25:3, name of God Ezekiel 20:9,14,22; Isaiah 48:11 and even God himself Ezekiel 22:16,26.

Pi`el Perfect חִלֵּל Leviticus 19:8 3t.; suffix חִלִּלוֺ Deuteronomy 20:6; 2masculine singular חִלַּלְתָּ Genesis 49:4 3t.; 2 feminine singular חִלָּ֑֔לְתְּ Ezekiel 22:8; 3plural suffix חִלְּלוּהֻ֯ Ezekiel 7:21 etc., + 16 t. Perfect; Imperfect יְחַלֵּל Leviticus 21:12,15,23; suffix יְחַלְּלֶנּוּ Deuteronomy 20:6; plural יְחַלְּלוּ Leviticus 21:6 4t., יְחַלֵּ֑לוּ Psalm 89:32 etc., + 13 t. Imperfect; Infinitive חַלֵּל Amos 2:7 4t.; חַלְּלוֺ Ezekiel 23:39 4t.; חַלְּלָם Jeremiah 16:18; Participle מְחַלֵּל Ezekiel 24:21 plural מְחַלְּלִים Malachi 1:12; Nehemiah 13:17; suffix מְחַלֲלֶיהָ Exodus 31:14; feminine מְחַלֶּלֶת Leviticus 21:9; —

1 defile, pollute:

a. sexually, Genesis 49:4 (poem) = 1 Chronicles 5:1 (the father's bed); a woman = זנה Leviticus 19:29; Leviticus 21:9 (H); זַרְעוֺ Leviticus 21:15 (H).

b. ceremonially, profane, the altar by a tool Exodus 20:25 (JE); sacred places Leviticus 21:12,23 (H), Ezekiel 7:21,22 (twice in verse); Ezekiel 23:39; Ezekiel 24:21; Ezekiel 44:7; Zephaniah 3:4; Malachi 2:11; Psalm 74:7; Daniel 11:31; the holy land Jeremiah 16:18; sacred things Leviticus 19:8; Leviticus 22:9,15 (H) Numbers 18:32 (P) Ezekiel 22:26; the sabbath Exodus 31:14 (P), Isaiah 56:2,6; Ezekiel 20:13,16,21,24; Ezekiel 22:8; Ezekiel 23:38; Nehemiah 13:17,18; and so the sanctity of the prince of Tyre who made himself God, and his holy places, Ezekiel 28:7,16,18.

c. the name of God Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 19:12; Leviticus 20:3; Leviticus 21:6; Leviticus 22:2,32 (all H), Amos 2:7; Jeremiah 34:16; Ezekiel 20:39; Ezekiel 36:20,21,22,23; Malachi 1:12, God himself Ezekiel 13:19.

d. ׳י defiles or profanes his inheritance by giving it over to Babylon Isaiah 47:6; the princes of the sanctuary by giving them to Chaldeans Isaiah 43:28.

2 violate the honour of, dishonour, ׳י subject crown of Davidic kingdom Psalm 89:40 (followed by לארץ pregnantly), kingdom of Judah Lamentations 2:2; the גאון בל צבי Isaiah 23:9.

3 violate a covenant Psalm 55:21; Psalm 89:35; Malachi 2:10, the חקות of God Psalm 89:32.

4 treat a vineyard as common (see חֹל) by beginning to use its fruit Deuteronomy 20:6 (twice in verse); Deuteronomy 28:30; Jeremiah 31:5 (see the law Leviticus 19:23-25, H).

Pu`al Participle בַּגּוֺיִם שְׁמִי הַגָּדוֺל הַמְֿחֻלָּל Ezekiel 36:23 my great name which is profaned among the nations.

Hiph`il 1. a. Imperfect אֶתשֶֿׁםקָֿדְשִׁי עוֺד לֹא אַחֵל Ezekiel 39:7 I will not let my holy name be profaned any more.

b. לֹא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֺ he shall not violate his word Numbers 30:3 (P).

Arabic حَلَال‎ (ḥalāl).

halal (not comparable)

  1. (Islam) Permissible, according to Muslim religious customs, to have or do. quotations ▼
  2. (of food) Fit to eat according to Muslim religious customs.
  3. (figuratively, by extension) In accordance with standards or usual practice; acceptable.

Hullin or Chullin (lit. "Ordinary" or "Mundane") is the third tractate of the Mishnah in the Order of Kodashim and deals with the laws of ritual slaughter of animals and birds for meat in ordinary or non-consecrated use (as opposed to sacred use), and with the Jewish dietary laws in general, such as the laws governing the prohibition of mixing of meat (fleishig) and dairy (milchig) products.

While it is included in the Seder Kodashim, it mainly discusses non-consecrated things and things used as the ordinary human food, particularly meats; it is therefore sometimes called "Shehitat Hullin" ("Slaughtering of Non-Consecrated Animals"). It comprises twelve chapters, dealing with the laws for the slaughtering of animals and birds for meat for ordinary as opposed to sacred use, with other rules relating to the eating of meat, and with the dietary laws in general.[1][2][3]

In an article published in 2014 in Commentary Magazine a Modern Orthodox lawyer Jay P. Lefkowitz coined the term "Social Orthodoxy" where he asks "Are the Modern Orthodox in America really Orthodox?". His question was based on the fact that faith in God or in the infallibility of the divine law is not as primary to this group as might be supposed.

He Writes:

As a matter of doctrine the fundamental tenet of Orthodox Judaism is the belief that on Mount Sinai, God transmitted to Moses both the written law (the Torah) and the oral law (the Talmud and certain other rabbinic texts). That is why Orthodox Judaism is generally resistant to changing interpretations of the law, except where there is some precedent for it in traditional law. To be sure, many Modern Orthodox rabbis and some of their congregants are steadfast in their faith and look to halacha to guide all aspects of their lives precisely because they believe it is the revealed word of God. But if unwavering acceptance of the Torah as divine is the precondition for Orthodoxy, then the term “Modern Orthodox” may well be a misnomer for many Jews who identify as Modern Orthodox. They might more accurately be described as Social Orthodox, with the emphasis on “Social.”

The Pew study offers insights that support this assessment. When compared with ultra-Orthodox Jews, Pew found that Modern Orthodox Jews are much less doctrinaire. Consider, for example, the question of faith. Among the ultra-Orthodox, 96 percent report that they believe in God with absolute certainty and 89 percent say that religion is very important in their lives. The percentage among Modern Orthodox Jews who feel equally certain in their faith is 77 percent, with a similar number reporting that religion is very important in their lives.

Lefkowitz concludes that:

What can we glean from all this data? That many self-identifying Modern Orthodox Jews, despite being more “Modern” than “Orthodox,” are living intensely Jewish lives. And precisely because of their dogma-averse approach to theology and to halacha, they are recapturing some of the creativity of rabbinic Judaism, which has ossified over time as, in the words of the Orthodox theologian Eliezer Berkovitz, many Orthodox Jews have become “Karaites of the Oral Law.” And this is the essence of Social Orthodoxy.

Social Orthodox Jews fully embrace Jewish culture and Jewish community. And they are committed to the survival of the Jewish people. Indeed, that is their raison d’être. Furthermore, because religious practice is an essential component of Jewish continuity, Social Orthodox Jews are observant—and not because they are trembling before God.

Lefkowitz gives credit to prior thinkers such as Ahad Ha'am and especially Mordecai Kaplan.

Quoting from the introduction to Kaplan's The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion, my friend Mel Scult writes:

For Kaplan the group was essential in defining the nature of religion: “Religion is primarily a social phenomenon,” he wrote in his journal in 1913.

The question was not which belief to retain and which to discard, but how to nurture the life energy of the Jewish people—the life energy that constituted its essence. Moreover, the Jewish consciousness that sustained the vital energy could be fostered by many different means. “It may be the Synagogue, the Hebrew Language, the Zionist movement, Jewish education or even student societies,” Kaplan wrote to his friend.

So in reference to Passover, Kaplan writes: "The conception of God as the redeemer of the oppressed has revolutionized the meaning and function of religion, and has placed it at the service of the ethical impulses.

The festival of Pesah is henceforth needed to stress the truth that God manifests Himself in human life as the Power that makes for freedom. Translated into our own way of thinking, the foregoing implies that it is more important to experience the reality of God as the Power that makes for freedom than merely to know that there is a God.

Kaplan suggests that his secular approach to Judaism is not only a viable alternative but has the potential to insure that Judaism stays true to itself and retains its vitality.

As a people, we Jews have suffered more than any other from the deprivation of the right to be different and the right to be creative. We should miss more keenly the joy of evolving material and moral values that we could call our own, not in the possessive sense but in the creative sense. We should yearn more intensively for the right to social and spiritual self-determination. We should never have committed the colossal blunder of identifying the political equality, which has been granted to us, as the dawn of the messianic era. Political equality, instead of releasing Jewish selfhood, has inhibited it.

This does not mean that we can do without political equality; it means that political equality is not enough. Political equality has given us merely formal freedom as individuals; but in demanding as the price of that freedom the surrender of our historic civilization, it has robbed us of the right to be different, and destroyed the chief prerequisite to our cultural and spiritual creativity. Not until we win the right to foster our Jewish civilization to the full in our ancestral home, and to some extent in the diaspora, can we consider ourselves truly free, either individually or as a group.

Three Paradoxes of Religious Zionism - Micah Goodman - Sep. 11, 2015


The modern Israeli thinker Micha Goodman ascribes a similar insight to the first Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, popularly known as Rav Kook. But Rav Kook goes further....

But in the same way that Rav Kook saw patriotism as religiosity and anarchism as holiness, he proposes a similar reversal of attitude to atheism: In his view, as we will see below, heresy is part of the evolution of faith.

“Any attempt to define godliness leads to heresy. The act of definition is itself spiritual idolatry. Merely defining intelligence and desire, and even Godliness and the name of God, is considered definition.” Rav Kook’s words are sharp and explicit. The jargon of religious faith places limits on God and contradicts his endless wholeness. Even the word “God” is a denial of God.

Rav Kook viewed secularism not merely as a hidden expression of religion, but as much more than that too. He interpreted secularization as an unconscious demand for refinement and elevation of religion. A good example of this was his assertion that, due to secularization – what he termed “the chutzpah of ikvata demeshicha” – the secrets of the Torah were being revealed. (The Aramaic phrase “ikvata demeshicha” refers to the period that the Talmud says will precede fulfillment of the messianic redemption, a time characterized by a deterioration and rebelliousness – “chutzpah” – in religious and political conditions.)

“Without the chutzpah of ikvata demeshicha, it would not be possible to explain the enigmas of the Torah with complete revelation,” he wrote. “Only through the condensing of the feelings that result from this chutzpah will it be possible to receive supreme rational enlightenment, and in the end, all will return to the absolute correction.”

Secularism not only brings revelations about the mysteries of the Torah; it also purifies the concept of godliness. According to Rav Kook, part of the redemption is the appearance of a noble and clean concept of godliness, and this process is accelerated by the new and rejectionist secularism:

“Since the time has come that the national revival has to occur, and the sprouting of the pride of the redemption comes into reality and must be revealed and it is possible for the nation to come together and achieve depth in life and the secrets of its power only through purified understanding This is the reason that the great negative force comes to the fore in the chutzpah of ikvata demeshicha, and this negativity will burn away everything weak and ugly in the conceptions of God.” The heresy that strengthens the nation also restores the concept of godliness and brings about revelation of the mysteries of the Torah.

One of Rav Kook’s more surprising statements is that redemption will come not only when religious Jews bring the secular back into the fold, but also when secular Jews bring the religious back: “The repair that will be brought about by the light of the Messiah is that the Jewish people will be made into a single union, and the soul of the God-fearing observers of the Torah will be mended by means of the completion of the spirit in the good criminals in relation to affairs of the general public, and the material and spiritual hopes to be attained through the human recognition and feelings.”

It is said that when Rav Kook arrived for a visit to the socialist-Zionist Kibbutz Merhavia, the pioneers saw him, his beard and his clothing as the epitome of all they were rebelling against. They were certain he had come in order to influence them and return them to the right path. All of their defense mechanisms were up and when the rabbi entered the dining hall, a kibbutz member stood up and announced to him and the other rabbis in his entourage, verbalizing what many of his friends were also thinking: “You won’t succeed in influencing us.” To which Rav Kook offered a surprising response: “We didn’t come to influence, we came to be influenced.”

כי הרב קוק ראה ב"חילונים" את החמור המקדים את ביאת הגאולה

מפריעה לו מאוד הגישה הפטרנליסטית או הטקטית, אשר אותה מייצגים לדעתו הרב קוק מחד והרב רבינוביץ מאידך. לפיכך בונה הוא גישה, המבקשת להתייחס ל"חילוני", כשווה, לא מתוך פטרנליזם, אלא מתוך הכרה בחשיבות עולמו המוסרי, גם אם זה איננו יונק מתוך עולמה של תורה

אלא שדבריהם אינם מובנים לכאורה. לעניות דעתי, מתוך עיון במקורות שונים של הרב קוק, נראה כי לא זו בלבד שהוא לא נקט בגישה "פטרונית" כלשונו של אורי, אלא שבבסיס תורתו עומדת הגישה ואף הדרישה לראות את הציבור החילוני כשווה, ובמידה מסוימת אף עדיף:

הנפש של פושעי ישראל שבעקבתא דמשיחא, אותם שהם מתחברים באהבה אל עניני כלל ישראל, לארץ ישראל ולתחית האומה,היא יותר מתוקנת מהנפש של שלומי אמוני ישראל, שאין להם זה היתרון של ההרגשה העצמית לטובת הכלל ובנין האומה והארץ. (אורות, עמ' פד, קטע מג)

לא היתה זו גישה טקטית או פטרונית. הרב קוק האמין באמת ובתמים כי ההתעוררות הציונית ה"חילונית", ודווקא ה"חילונית", יכולה וצריכה לתקן את הקלקולים שב"דתיות" הגלותית, ממנה אנו סובלים עד היום

For a Hebrew treatment of the same concepts see:

גישתו של הרב קוק לחילוניות המודרנית

Alain de Botton, a world renowned secularist and atheist has written a book called Religion for Atheists and writes:

It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: first, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And second, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise. God may be dead, but the urgent issues which impelled us to make him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away when we have been nudged to perceive some scientific inaccuracies in the tale of the seven loaves and fishes.

The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed. Once we cease to feel that we must either prostrate ourselves before them or denigrate them, we are free to discover religions as repositories of a myriad ingenious concepts with which we can try to assuage a few of the most persistent and unattended ills of secular life.

חִלּוֹנִי adj. NH secular. [Coined (in the form חֻלּוֹנִי) by Prof. Joseph Klausner (1874–1958). The correct form is חִלּוֹנִי, which arose through vowel dissimilation from חֻלּוֹנִי, a derivative of חֹל (= profaneness). cp. Aram. חִלּוֹנַי.] Derivative: חִלּוֹנִיּוּת.