TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Instead of long beards and robes, they wear track suits and T-shirts. Their tablets are electronic, not hewn of stone, and they hold smartphones, not staffs. They may not look the part, but this ragtag group of Israelis is training to become the next generation of prophets.
For just 200 shekels, about $53, and in only 40 short classes, the Cain and Abel School for Prophets says it will certify anyone as a modern-day Jewish soothsayer.
The school, which launched classes this month, has baffled critics, many of whom have dismissed it as a blasphemy or a fraud.
On a religious level, Jewish tradition recognizes a few dozen prophets from the biblical era — from the monumental figures of Abraham, Moses and Elijah to lesser known foretellers of doom and tormented questioners like Micah the Morashtite and Habakkuk. Tradition says no one can be a prophet ever since the Romans destroyed the second temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 and the era of prophecy can only be revived with the arrival of the Messiah and the temple's rebuilding. As one Talmudic phrase puts it, the only prophets now are children and fools.
But also, on a philosophical level, how do you learn divine inspiration in school? And can anyone learn?
"There is no way to teach prophecy," said Rachel Elior, a professor of Jewish thought at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. "It's like opening a school for becoming Einstein or Mozart."
That hasn't deterred the school's founder and sole teacher Shmuel Hapartzy, a follower of Chabad, a worldwide Orthodox Jewish outreach and worship movement that has come under fire because part of its membership crowned its late leader the Messiah. The Chabad movement in Israel has distanced itself from the school.
Anyone looking in the curriculum for "Parting the Sea 101" or "How to Predict the Future" or even "Principles of Proclaiming A Jeremiad" will be disappointed. Instead, students learn about the meaning of dreams, the classification of angels, the mysteries of the holy spirit. They learn how to discern a person's inner feelings from his or her external behavior and appearance.
Hapartzy can't guarantee his course will give his students a direct line to God. But, he says, the syllabus provides the essential tools to bring out the prophet in anyone.
"In the past there were prophets but even now, in our time, divinity is being revealed to everyone. We just need to open our eyes to it," said Hapartzy at his introductory course, which is held at a religious center in grungy south Tel Aviv, known more for its licentious street parties than piety.
And graduates do get a diploma.
There's little "profit" motive to the venture. Hapartzy said the token fee is to prove students' dedication and is donated to the religious center hosting the school. There's no application process — anyone who wants to become a prophet can do so by just showing up for the course.
The school's inaugural class this month welcomed a mixed bag of 12 students ranging in age from 18 to 50. One man had scruffy stubble and wore a blue track suit. Another walked in with a guitar slung over his back. Others fiddled with their phones during the lecture or stepped out to smoke. Two had long beards and wore Jewish skullcaps.
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