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Ruth Calderon: "The Time Has Come To Re-appropriate What Is Ours"
August 26, 2013 8:38 AM   Subscribe

"Every new member of Israel’s Knesset gives a debut speech, and this year, with 48 rookies, the docket was full, with parliamentarians introducing their résumés, their proposed policies, and their hopes for the coming four-year term. One decided to ignore convention altogether. This member of Knesset used the allotted time to teach Talmud. A full third of the 19th Knesset are observant Jews, but it wasn’t any of them. It was a woman named Ruth Calderon, a Talmud scholar and the founder of two Jewish houses of study. She was elected to Knesset as No. 13 on the list of Yesh Atid, a new party headed by former journalist Yair Lapid that swept the recent elections, earning 19 seats on a promise to bring about a more equal Israel..."

Calderon first thought of studying religious texts thanks to a lecture she heard during her mandatory army service. From that beginning, she earned a doctorate in Talmudic literature, and founded Elul in 1989, the first secular yeshiva in Israel. She opened a second school, Alma, in 1996.

In January of this year, Ruth Calderon joined 47 other new members in the Knesset, Israel's legislative body of 120 individuals, joining 18 other members of the new centrist party, Yesh Atid. During her introduction, the room was quiet, until the session’s ultra-Orthodox moderator, Shas MK Yizhak Vaknin, interceded in her story from the Talmud to strengthen her point (here is another translation of her introduction).

Calderon has already made some ground on her policies, with the Ministry of Education giving substantial funds to non-Orthodox educational institutions teaching Torah, breaking from tradition. But she and her party have a way to go, when Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Haredi communities are booming, and could further shift Israel's political field.
posted by filthy light thief (21 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
This looks like something that corresponds with current attempts to reclaim Christianity from the Right.
posted by No Robots at 9:15 AM on August 26, 2013


I don't really understand how they cannot change the rules about who gets exempted from military service -- if the Haredi are 10% of the population, it would seem like a majority of the other 90% would want this change made.
posted by jeather at 9:26 AM on August 26, 2013


I learn that righteousness is not adherence to the Torah at the expense of sensitivity to human beings.

I'm curious to know if "sensitivity to human beings" includes Palestinians. She and her party support the larger bloc West Bank Settlements as well as additional construction.

She and her party are a step in the right direction for the 80% of secular, and non-Orthodox religious Jews who have felt themselves marginalized on various political issues by the right wing. I think Israeli society needs to be more pluralistic and not so beholden to the interests of the ultra-Orthodox.

But the region is still a tinderbox. And Yesh Atid may be centrist, but they don't seem to be far removed from Likud in matters of foreign policy.
posted by zarq at 9:35 AM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm curious to know if "sensitivity to human beings" includes Palestinians.

This summarized comments Calderon made recently in Australia (note: site currently loads a small image of a mostly-naked butt), in which she supported a two-state solution, stating "She emphasised that this will not be possible if Israel indefinitely holds on to the territory in captured in 1967."
posted by filthy light thief at 9:48 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


filthy light thief: ""She emphasised that this will not be possible if Israel indefinitely holds on to the territory in captured in 1967.""

JPost:"Do you support the adoption of the Edmund Levy Report, which recommends the state approve unauthorized Jewish settlements in the West Bank?

We need to get rid of small settlements and keep big blocs. I don’t know the report well, so I don’t want to comment on what I didn’t read."

So she supports a two-state solution but not what she herself defines as its requirements?
posted by zarq at 10:00 AM on August 26, 2013


So she supports a two-state solution but not what she herself defines as its requirements?

I am pretty sure that every version of a 2-state solution including the Road Map involves land swaps to allow many of the bigger blocs to remain part of Israel, especially as the largest ones are fairly close to the 1967 borders. That's why expanding settlements becomes so problematic. Here are some proposed swaps [nyt] in detail.
posted by Mchelly at 10:14 AM on August 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm out of my depth here, I'll let others provide answers.

Mchelly, thanks for that article. It's interesting to see the different proposals.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:27 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I listened to some of her speech on NPR, and one of the things that I thought was hilarious was that they had comments from an ultra-orthodox critic complaining that people like her were the most dangerous threat to Judaism because, "they actually know the Torah!"
posted by klangklangston at 10:42 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't really understand how they cannot change the rules about who gets exempted from military service -- if the Haredi are 10% of the population, it would seem like a majority of the other 90% would want this change made.

As I understand it, Haredi participation in the military has caused some serious issues, regarding treatment of women members of the IDF particularly. There may be at least some secular Israelis who feel that bringing Haredi into the military in large numbers is going to lead to changes within the military that aren't necessarily healthy for it or for the country at large.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:00 PM on August 26, 2013


Yes, the Haredi sort of have the military by the betzim (balls) on this one. Haredi should participate but they won't have any mixed exercises, rallies, meetings, groups or, B'H, singing by children that are female.

They make themselves a nightmare to deal with so that they don't have to serve and no one (really) wants them to.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:05 PM on August 26, 2013


Haredi should participate but they won't have any mixed exercises, rallies, meetings, groups or, B'H, singing by children that are female.

Interesting. Are there no solutions suggested? What about Haredi women, are they excused?
posted by jeather at 3:39 PM on August 26, 2013


"keep big blocs" doesn't sound like adjustments to the 1967 border to make it rational. rather, my interpretation is that she means keeping "big blocs" of settlements in the west bank. here's a map of the west bank and israeli settlements.

you're suppose to think "oh, well of course they want to keep the big ones, that makes sense, it wouldn't be right to make everyone move" but, really, these settlements will make any kind of real Palestinian state impossible.
posted by cupcake1337 at 4:45 PM on August 26, 2013


I don't really understand how they cannot change the rules about who gets exempted from military service -- if the Haredi are 10% of the population, it would seem like a majority of the other 90% would want this change made.

This is a political science problem common to many legislative bodies but to which the Knesset is particularly prone. Neither Likud nor any other party can by themselves command a majority to form a government, so to accomplish this they must form a coalition with one or more minority parties. While similar in principle to the Conservative-Liberal government in the UK (where Labor is the opposition), in Israel there are many small splinter parties with very focused agendas, many of them religious. So any coalition forming process needs to offer these parties something, and often that is something really fringe and not even broadly supported in Israel.

In the US, the winner-take-all system operates in a virtuous circle with two-party rule, both reinforcing the other, so that it is pretty common to have a working legislative majority. In US terminology, though, it's a close similarity to "appeasing the base" or how the Tea Party is weighting the Republican Congress toward a particularly extreme conservatism.
posted by dhartung at 5:36 PM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a really nice maiden speech and a well-chosen anecdote. To put it in context, that section of the Talmud is discussing husbands' marital obligations. Marriage is conceptually a contract, so what are its terms? Particularly, is a husband allowed to leave home for extended periods of time against his wife's wishes? Can he take a job a that requires travel, in an era where "travel" meant weeks or months away from home? Can he leave home to study - study being the greatest possible good, of course. Well, the law is that students can leave for a month at a time, but there is a conflicting ruling that says they can leave for two or three years.

Anyway, Rava (the pre-eminent sage of the time) says that students who follow that ruling do so at the risk of their lives, and relates an anecdote about one of his students. The student's name was Rechumi, and we're in allegory territory here because the people hearing the anecdote would immediately associate that name with "rechem", womb, which is the Hebrew root of "rachmanut" meaning compassion; they would also associate it with its numerical value that correlates with the number of religious duties in Judaism and also the number of bones in a human body. His name is highly symbolic.

Rechumei's practice was to leave home for a year at a time and sit studying in an attic - a superstructure constructed over a dwelling - and only return the afternoon before Yom Kippur. As Ms Calderon puts it,
At some point she realizes that this year he won't be coming. Perhaps the Shofar has already signaled the start of Yom Kippur, and after that no one will arrive due to the sanctity of the holy day. It plays on her mind. This woman who waited all year, who has waited for many years, all year, for this one day, and she can't stand it anymore and her resolve weakens, she's disappointed, she's sad and she loses control. "She sheds a tear", she lets one tear drop fall. This is the active verb of the word not the passive. She lets one tear drop fall from her eye onto her cheek, after many years of not crying.
At that moment the attic collapsed, and he died.

Now, what's going on here? There's a clue: his wife is referred to poetically, as "his home". His home is crying. Rechumei (who represents compassion and duty and even the idea of a person) has left his home and is studying in an attic. So on a literal level he has gone off to an academy, but symbolically he has retreated into intellectualism: he has confined himself within a small superstructure (i.e., his head) where he can be alone with his thoughts. He does this all year long, and maintains only the briefest contact with "his home" - he only returns for Yom Kippur, when normal life (including sex, which is what this part of the Talmud is actually about) is forbidden. And one day he doesn't turn up. And his wife, who is allegorically and poetically his home, breaks down. And the attic, which is built on a home (and in the allegory it's built on the idea of a home) collapses. Our minds are not separate from the rest of our lives. An attic will collapse without a home underneath it. If you retreat into intellectualism you will die - literally or metaphorically.

In Calderon's analogy, the Haredim are represented by the husband who wants to live a life of intellectual and religious purity. The Haredim are literally and metaphorically supported by the rest of the population. Her message, which is apparently reflected in her life, is that these segments of Israeli society need to work on their relationship. The point of the allegory is that the husband and wife love each other. What brings the whole edifice crashing down isn't hatred: it's sadness and disappointment, brought about by a failure to maintain connection.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:38 PM on August 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


With respect to the draft, my understanding is that the only reason to want haredi draftees is perceptual fairness: the IDF doesn't actually need more people. So if they draft haredim they'll have a whole lot of problems with an unwilling cohort that requires special accommodations and which has its own lobby built into the system. Also, it's a can of worms: do you draft Arab Israelis too? Do you assign women to the same (or at least same types) of brigades as men? Because they're not, currently, and many do social service instead of actual military work. It's a mess. My answer, for what it's worth, is draft everybody or nobody.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:42 PM on August 26, 2013


Got stuck in the maze, got bored. Should I have continued?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:07 AM on August 27, 2013


Joe in Australia: With respect to the draft, my understanding is that the only reason to want haredi draftees is perceptual fairness: the IDF doesn't actually need more people.

It's true that the IDF doesn't need more people, but there's no upper limit on the number of people who can usefully do alternative national service.

So if they draft haredim they'll have a whole lot of problems with an unwilling cohort that requires special accommodations... Do you assign women to the same (or at least same types) of brigades as men?

There are already many orthodox Jews serving in the army, mostly national-religious (kippa sruga) types, and they haven't been impossible to accommodate. There are also units with both men and women.
posted by vasi at 2:13 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


jeather: "What about Haredi women, are they excused?"

I believe they're exempted currently. They could presumably do national service, but they have a tendency to be busy with pregnancy and motherhood during the years in question.
posted by vasi at 2:18 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the post, filthy light thief. I hadn't heard of Calderon at all, and I'm glad that's changed. Here's another link I found, about when she went to a right-wing religious conference to dissent.
posted by vasi at 2:29 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vasi, the religious soldiers in the army are accommodated with good will on both sides and there are still occasional problems. A very significant point is religious youth willing to be drafted by definition accept halachic rulings from rabbis that are OK with military service. Haredi youth have their own rabbis, most of whom are not OK with military service, and who will not be willing to reach accommodations with military personnel.

What I meant by my reference to women is that religious women, even dati leumi ones, can opt for national service. This choice isn't available for religious men who are not in a full-time yeshiva or kollel or whatever. And then there are the Arabs. Do you draft them? It's been a touchy subject for a long time. Incidentally, I came across this interesting article on the mostly-Arab Sword battalion, which is an apparent victim of its own success: As more young Druze opt for elite units, IDF fears for future of battalion.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:14 AM on August 27, 2013


Joe, I think we're in agreement about the potential problems integrating haredim in the IDF. I was trying to make the point that it's not religious accommodation that's the issue, but the willingness to serve.

I'm pretty sure that national service is in fact available to men, though. I met some men working as tour guides who claimed to be doing sherut leumi, though maybe I misunderstood?

I don't think the IDF will ever conscript from the (non-Druze/Bedouin) Arab population, but I can imagine Arab-community focused national service becoming a more common thing.
posted by vasi at 4:58 AM on August 27, 2013


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