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Saturday, February 16, 2013 

Haredi press resents that a woman would lead Talmud lesson

MK Ruth Calderon of the Yesh Atid party is the one who organized the lesson in the Knesset, and the Haredis can't stand that a woman would lead one:
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?”
Well at least they understand that it won't help an iota if they try to alienate what they call "secular" society, and most of it doesn't necessarily qualify as such.

Now I can understand if they have a problem with assimilation, but integration is something else entirely. As I've noted before, leading an otherwise insular and segregated lifestyle just isn't sustainable, and as the Kikar Shabbat site signals, they're taking quite the wrong approach prevalent in many Haredi sects like the Satmar today: they don't consider or want to be part of Israeli/non-Haredi society, yet they enjoy all those socialist welfare benefits at everybody else's expense. What is wrong with Talmud for all? If women embrace Talmud/Torah/Gemara/Rambam et cetera, that's surely a positive thing, and it should also be a positive development if they want to teach it. The Haredi society should be flattered and proud, so we can only hope the self-reflective part signals they realize it wouldn't help their cause if they opposed a woman wanting to teach Talmud as much as learn it.

Update: I'm not sure if this was taken from the op-ed they speak of, but one of The Jewish Press' contributors has posted 12 good reasons why seculars would have a problem with Haredis, as listed by a rabbi who's a spokeman for Nahal Haredi in the army. There is one little thing I take issue with though:
12. We do not agree—in my view, rightfully so—that secular people move into Haredi neighborhoods. So where do we get the arrogance and audacity to call anti-Semites those secular who don't agree that Haredim move near their homes, in secular neighborhoods?
While a lot of what he says is certainly strong and introspective, a pity he's fallen back on an apparent segregative view by saying he thinks it right that seculars not move into Haredi neighborhoods, unless he means it wouldn't be the best place for them to live because Haredis would be hostile to their residency. I think he'd be making a lot of improvements by avoiding that type of viewpoint.

Update 2: here's an article about Calderon in the New Jersey Jewish News.

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