Sivan Rahav-Meir is a popular Israeli news anchorwoman, a columnist for Yediot Aharonot, and the host of a weekly radio show on Army Radio. She also is an Orthodox Jew.
A ba’alat teshuvah and the mother of five, Rahav-Meir in recent years has begun using her journalistic talents to teach Torah to Israelis – both observant and not – via a weekly parshah lecture and short Facebook and WhatsApp posts. Rahav-Meir recently collated some of the latter in #Parasha: Weekly Insights from a Leading Israeli Journalist (Menorah Books).
The Jewish Press: How did you go from journalist to part-time Torah educator?
Rahav-Meir: The media is changing. Once upon a time, you bought a newspaper or watched television because you wanted to know what happened in the news. Today, you know it immediately. You don’t need me to tell you; you get it on your cell phone the moment it happens. So all these new tools make us regular reporters less interesting and less relevant. So I thought: Let me use these tools to try to create something new.
How have you done that?
First of all, I have more than 100,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter and more than 30,000 subscribers on WhatsApp. I also started a weekly shiur about the parshah and its connection to the news. It’s like a show, but about Judaism.
How do you incorporate Torah thoughts in your Facebook posts?
Everything that happens in the news is like a base for me. I think: What would Rashi say about it? I go to the most ancient messages we have and use the newest tools to make Torah more relevant, more attractive. And I know how to bring “ratings” to these messages because this is what I’ve been doing for years.
Can you elaborate?
As a journalist, I have learned how to find interesting stories and good headlines, how to convince the public to stop in their tracks and listen, and how to present complicated things in simple ways so that everyone can understand. I try to do this today with the parshah of the week.
How did you first enter journalism?
I started very early. At the age of six I started interviewing kids in pre-school and the interviews were published in all kinds of kids magazines in Israel. I became Orthodox at the age of 15 or 16 because I discovered the magic of our identity.
Nothing extreme happened. I just discovered myself. I had gone to very good schools here in Israel, but I knew almost nothing about my Judaism. So I started reading. But it wasn’t just the mind. It was the heart too. I went to a family in Beersheba for the first time for Shabbat and for me it was a scoop – the scoop. After many years of searching for scoops, I found the greatest scoop of my life: Shabbat – the ability to stop everything, the ability not to be connected to everything in order to be connected to yourself, the ability to really think of the people around you and be with them for 24 hours.
Is it difficult being Orthodox in Israeli television?
Of course. But the people I work with understand my values and let me bring my point of view. Unfortunately, though, they still don’t understand that the majority of Israelis think like me. The media sees Judaism as a problem while most Israelis see it as a solution.
What do you mean by Judaism being “a solution”?
First of all, for our personal lives, the Torah’s values and morals teach us how to treat our spouses, our fathers and mothers, and our community. And on a national level, we came back to the land of Israel – why? What are we doing here? What’s our message? Judaism provides that message.
In the early days of the state, many among Israel’s secular elite displayed almost a disdain toward religion. Many argue that the atmosphere toward religion has greatly softened in recent decades with many more Israelis open to it. Do you find that to be true?
Yes. People want to know about their Jewish identity. And I don’t think you can have a Jewish democratic state without Judaism. It won’t work. You can’t create a new Israeli persona with no roots, where you’re not connected to anything. You must connect to your roots to build new things, and so you must know basic things like Tanach, halacha, Mishnah, and Midrash. We can’t be here without them, and I think it’s a very healthy thing that Israelis are seeking these links with their identity.
When did it first occur to you to write Torah posts and give Torah lectures?
Two years ago, after our fifth child was born. In Israel you have 12 weeks of vacation after you have a baby, so I had 12 weeks to think about what I wanted to do when I came back. I didn’t see myself running after politicians again in the Knesset with a microphone, so I thought maybe I can make scoops out of the parshah. And, Baruch Hashem, 700 people come every week to hear my parshah lecture. I give it all over Israel and also abroad.
What would you say was the most controversial Torah-related Facebook post you ever wrote?
All the disputes here are about: Do you go to the Har HaBayit? Do you join the army or study in yeshiva? What do you think about this conversion or that conversion? You can go on and on with all these disputes, but can we please speak about Shabbat? Can we please speak about Yom Kippur? Can we please speak about kashrut?
So I try not to go into all these very attractive debates. I try to speak about things that I think are not spoken about it enough. Take Shabbat, for example. We have forgotten about it, but it is a mitzvah that is even more urgent and precious in this decade because of technology, cell phones, and social media. Shabbat is the cure for this confusing era.
You recently told the Forward that you once had a fight with your editor over movie director Quentin Tarantino. What exactly happened?
Tarantino recently got engaged to an Israeli singer and my editor asked me to interview her father. I said, “How can interview him?” He said, “What’s the problem? Just say mazal tov and ask him about the wedding.” I said, “No way.” He said, “What do you mean? You’re a racist. Why can’t she marry a non-Jew?”
I work with people who think completely different. So you do try to compromise, but in this situation there was no compromise because I won’t interview someone and say mazal tov if his daughter is marrying a non-Jew. I’m very sorry. I’m not going to promote assimilation, and I don’t think I’m racist because that’s my opinion. But this is an extreme example. These type of things don’t happen every day.