MK’s Knesset Talmud lesson elicits scorn from haredi media

Kikar Hashabbat accuses Yesh Atid Mk Ruth Calderon of seeking to bring a “new enlightenment” to the haredi world to integrate them into Israeli society.

February 15, 2013 01:36
2 minute read.
Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon

Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Yesh Atid)


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Many MKs applauded the groundbreaking inaugural speech of freshman MK Dr. Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) on Tuesday, in which she delivered a Torah lesson based on a tractate of the Talmud to bring a message of understanding and tolerance.

Calderon, a lecturer in Talmud and founder of the egalitarian Elul yeshiva in Jerusalem, started her speech by reading a homiletic extract from the Talmud, noting that the Torah is “not the property of one movement or another, but a gift received by every one of us,” and said that instead it should be rediscovered and reappropriated to help construct a Hebrew culture in Israel.

But her speech also received a deeply suspicious and wary reaction from the popular haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat, which accused Calderon and her Yesh Atid party of seeking to bring a “new enlightenment” to the haredi world to integrate them into Israeli society.

“MK Calderon stood on the speakers’ platform... and then the realization suddenly hit us; we are seeing in a live broadcast the new enlightenment, the new forces that have arisen and want to annihilate haredi society in its current form,” the website wrote in an editorial.

“Haredi society finds itself facing a much more complex threat [than the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries], against the demand from us to integrate into the secular Jewish society,” the article continued.

The Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskala as it is known in Hebrew, is a much-reviled period of history for the ultra- Orthodox community because of the process of integration and assimilation into secular society that it engendered for European Jewry, following the emancipation of Jews on the continent with which it was concurrent.

The Kikar Hashabbat editorial team wrote that unlike the first Enlightenment, Calderon and Yesh Atid do not want to eradicate the Torah and turn the Jews into a nation of non- Jews, but instead want “Talmud for all, and here is hidden the great danger,” the article explained.

“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.”

Despite its negative rhetoric, the editorial ends on a contemplative and self-reflective note, asking whether haredi society should push away secular society – which could send secular Jews toward “the Reform Movement and the rest of the instant alternatives to authentic Judaism” – or allow it in somewhat, which could be an opportunity “to try and include opinions and approaches opposed to ours?”

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