Nine kippa-clad dancers take the stage. One is a rabbi, and the rest are graduates of hesder yeshivas. Their stage is a synagogue, and their dancing is a kind of Torah study and prayer.
Despite the fact that the Ka'et Ensemble (the name is taken from Psalms) has only been in existence for two years, it is making waves in the local dance community. It has held 30 performances. Earlier this month, it performed a new show at the Yakar and Yedidiya synagogues in Jerusalem.
- Hassidic art gallery sheds light on Orthodox art
- Torahs become canvas for US artist
- Artistic, religious, and proud
Ka'et's dancers do not see themselves as groundbreakers, but nevertheless dance has been marginalized in the religious community, despite the fact that it is not halachically prohibited. Dancing in a synagogue is a new expression not only of the mind-body connection, but also of tolerance and faith.
"Our dancing attempts to examine aspects of Judaism," says Hananiya Schwartz, 30. "Our dance creations connect to our world. We come from a rich Jewish world. The meeting between dance and holiness has created a fruitful conflict."
According to Schwartz, the debate surrounded the location of the performance – in front of the ark, or in the study hall? Choreographer Ronen Yitzhaki – who is not observant – read the weekly Torah portion that tells the story of the children on Aharon, and decided on the study hall.
"We had a passionate debate, and in the end decided not to dance in synagogue's main space," Schwartz said.
"Our work deals with prayer… we have combined them with the experience of the synagogue. They need to fit into a small space, not on a professional stage," he added.
It is clear to Schwartz and his cohorts that the road to consensus is a long one. "None of us make a living as dancers," he said. "But bit by bit, we're becoming accepted, and maybe in the future can make a living this way. There's a lot of curiosity about us, and respect – both from the Tel Aviv dance community… and from the religious sector, who don't quite know how to take us."
Schwartz said that the troupe has conducted dance seminars in yeshiva high schools and noted a "new, more open, less suspicious spirit."
"Ten years ago, it wouldn't have been acceptable," he said.
When asked how an observant Jew finds his way to a field perceived as "secular art," Schwartz explained that his studies had led him to texts by Rabbi Kook and hassidic texts that addressed the body, and connected to them.
"It's all very well and good to (do) combat army service, but what about what the Torah says about the body? I feel that the religious sector lives with fear about the body," he said.
Nevertheless, he added, people who study Rabbi Kook know dozens of "provocative" decisions about the holiness of the body and the secrets it contains. "Now, they just need to discover it," he said.