“MK Calderon stood on the speakers’ platform…and then the realization suddenly hit us; we are seeing in a live broadcast the new Haskalah, the new forces that have arisen and want to annihilate haredi society in its current form. Haredi society finds itself facing a much more complex threat [than the Haskalah of the 18th and 19th centuries], against the demand from us to integrate into the secular Jewish society.”
Newly Elected MK’s Speech Citing The Talmud Angers Haredim
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
A newly elected non-Orthodox non-haredi MK from the Yesh Atid political party headed by Yair Lapid gave her inaugural Knesset speech last week.
Dr. Ruth Calderon holds a BA degree and teaching certificate from Oranim College and Haifa University, and MA and Ph.D. degrees in Talmud from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She founded Elul, an umbrella organization for over 100 non-Orthodox non-haredi pluralistic yeshivas, and is a leader in efforts to create dialogue between Orthodox and haredi Israelis on one hand and secular Israelis on the other., and was a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
Many MKs applauded her speech – which you can see and hear in Hebrew in the above video – because it was primarily a divrei, a Torah lesson or homily, based on a section of the Babylonian Talmud (Ketubot 62b) and meant to convey a message of understanding and tolerance.
The Torah is “not the property of one movement or another, but a gift received by every one of us,” she said in her speech, and insisted that it should be re-appropriated by non-Orthodox Israelis to construct a pluralistic Jewish culture in Israel.
In her 14-minute speech, Calderon also described her journey from a completely secular Israeli with no knowledge of traditional Jewish texts to a secular Talmud scholar. As she spoke, she held a volume of Talmud given to her by Yesh Atid founder Yair Lapid’s mother many years ago that, Calderon said, “changed my life.”
“I grew up in a very Jewish home, a very Zionist home. Like others in the mainstream of my generation in the 1960s and 1970s, I was brought up on ideas from the bible to the Palmach [the elite Jewish pre-state fighters who formed the core of the Israel Defense Forces after the state was declared in 1948].…But I felt, I knew something was missing. Something undefined in the common new Israeli identity — which was very nice — was missing…I was missing a depth, a vocabulary, stories, heroes, places and drama,” Calderon said according to a partial translation by the Times of israel.
Haredim, however, were clearly not pleased.
The acting speaker, Shas MK Yitzhak Vaknin, interrupted Calderon to interject something into her divrei Torah.
From the floor, another MK objected to Vaknin's interruption.
Calderon took it all in stride, responding that she was willing to “exchange ideas on Torah” with anyone, any time, drawing smiles, laughter and approval from many secular MKs.
Kikar Hashabbat, the large haredi news website, accused Calderon and the Yesh Atid party in an editorial of trying to bring a “new Haskalha” (Enlightenment) to the haredi world.
“MK Calderon stood on the speakers’ platform…and then the realization suddenly hit us; we are seeing in a live broadcast the new Haskalah, the new forces that have arisen and want to annihilate haredi society in its current form. Haredi society finds itself facing a much more complex threat [than the Haskalah of the 18th and 19th centuries], against the demand from us to integrate into the secular Jewish society,” Kikar Hashabbat wrote according to a partial translation by the Jerusalem Post.
Haredim hated the Haskalah because the freedom it brought, along with sudden access to centuries of secular knowledge, sparked giant waves of assimilation as Jews willingly fled from the shtetls and ghettos – and the rabbis.
Unlike the first Haskalah, Calderon and Yesh Atid do not want to wipe out the Torah and turn the Jews into a nation of non-Jews, Kikar HaShabbat wrote. Instead, they want “Talmud for all, and here is hidden the great danger…The Yesh Atid bunch and the Enlightenment rabbis of the 19th century [act] in similar ways. They take cover under the cloak of the rabbinate – Rabbi Shai Piron [second on Yesh Atid’s list], Dov Lipman [another Yesh Atid MK and haredi rabbi] and the ‘rabbanit’ Ruth Calderon are using our weapon – the Talmud, gemara and arbiters of Jewish law – against us and at the same time acting as a fig leaf.”
Kikar HaShabbat closes by pointing out the new haredi dilemma. Should haredim continue to push away secular society, knowing that doing so could send non-haredi Jews into the arms of “the Reform Movement and the rest of the recently created alternatives to authentic Judaism”? Or should haredim allow them in somewhat, just enough to keep them away from Reform and its fellow travelers, and view this as an opportunity “to try and include opinions and approaches opposed to ours [in a controlled and limited way]?”
None of the non-haredi non-Orthodox yeshivas Calderon works with or founded receives any government funding, while haredi yeshivas receive millions of dollars each year in government funding and support.