Jewfem Blog

How Ruth Calderon Inspired me

Dr. Ruth Calderon is starting a revolution in Israel. The new Knesset member on Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party is a Talmudic scholar who built two secular batei midrash (houses of learning), Elul and Alma, both of which are among the most significant educational institutions at the center of the Jewish secular renewal in Israel. And this week, in her introductory speech at the Knesset, she did something astonishing: She taught a passage of Talmud. This was remarkable for several reasons. First, Israeli society has been trained to associate traditional Jewish sources with the ultra-Orthodox community, whose entire belief that only elite orthodox men can truly understand Talmud is at the heart of some of the most heated debates about social and economic issues in Israel. Suddenly, we had a secular feminist breaking all of the molds and expectations by owning the text. Moreover, she taught the text — a passage from Ketubat 62b about Rabbi Rechumei, who forgot to come home to his wife on Yom Kippur. And she taught it with the tenderness and care of someone who deeply loves the text. The ultra-Orthodox community is already terrified at this reality. “She is challenging our entire way of life,” the Kikar Shabbat website wrote this morning, as if to say that a secular woman to be embracing Talmud this way goes against many of their sacred assumptions. What’s more, Dr. Calderon brilliantly wove the text into a message about these very secular-religious rifts in society. Using the finesse of a movie director, she likened Rabbi Rechumei and his wife to secular Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Israelis, each one living a different life and not understanding the other. It was an interpretation that used the Talmud as a source of wisdom and insight for contemporary issues. The very presence of an incredibly brilliant female Talmudic scholar teaching a (still) predominantly-male group, with her grace, virtuosity and erudition, was an arresting sight. But it’s not just what she taught but also how she taught. Her reading of the text was enlightened, inspired and real. She brought the story to life, connecting it to the human condition, making it relatable and present. Her reading of the words was literal, which clearly troubled the Shas Speaker of the Knesset, who rudely interrupted her and offered a much more midrashic, “traditional” and, in my opinion, stretched, reading. In one of the greatest moments of the talk, while Knesset members loudly chastised the Speaker for interrupting, Dr. Calderon gracefully turned to him and said, “That’s okay. I’m always happy to share words of Torah.” That kind of gentility is not something that is often seen in the Knesset. It was at that moment when I realized the enormity of the change she is ushering in. This is not just about teaching Talmud but about challenging the entire social discourse in Israel. Dr. Calderon is a great rebbe, now Knesset member. The possibilities are captivating. Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/171283/the-knessets-feminist-turn/#ixzz2LCEBxYcm

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Women in Israel Fight for Their Voice

When asked at a JOFA panel about the status of women in Israel and what can be done to protect women’s basic rights, I replied that I would first make it illegal for a political party that has no women on its list to run for the Knesset. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this sentiment. In fact, a new movement is beginning to form of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox women fighting against the exclusion of women from religious political parties. Esti Shoshan, a haredi journalist, recently started a Facebook page called Lo nivharot, lo boharot, which means “If we can’t be elected, we are not voting.” As of this writing, the group has over 800 likes — perhaps not the stuff of a Steve Jobs fan page, but signs of movement nonetheless. And it comes at a particularly significant time in the development of religious politics. The legality of religious parties of Shas and United Torah Judaism is currently being debated by the Elections Council, under the leadership of Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein, based on a petition filed by a coalition of seven organizations led by Jerusalem city council member Laura Wharton contesting the systemic exclusion of women from party lists. “The sad situation of women’s under-representation in the Knesset, is imminent,” the petition states, adding that, “an absurd situation has been created in which the country subsidizes bodies that discriminate against women.” Women have a “different role” than men, Shas and United Torah Judaism wrote in their response. “The parties function, as demanded by the halakha (Jewish law), with clear segregation between men and women for reasons of modesty. Men have one role and women have another. This segregation does not exclude women, discriminate against them nor deem them less worthy than men.” Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/167995/women-in-israel-fight-for-their-voice/#ixzz2LCCzdhD1

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And Shelly Makes Two: The Forward Op-Ed

With the election of Shelly Yachimovich to head Israel’s Labor Party, two major political parties are led by women for the first time in the country’s history. This is an encouraging development not only because it helps advance gender fairness in Israeli society, but also because it potentially signals a new era for Israeli politics, one that has implications for issues as wide-ranging as the military, the peace process, the role of the Haredim and the movement for social justice.

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