THERE is a quiet revolution taking place in Israel. It is a new day in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. It is a revolution embracing Torah study.
In my generation, elected secular officials such as Shulamit Aloni endeavored to erase Jewish heritage, history and identity from the mainstream secular Israeli public. They made an absence of Jewishness the definition of a secular Israeli.
Today’s secular leadership is preaching against creating a generic Israeli public devoid of its Jewishness, cut off from its roots. This leadership is reclaiming Torah study.
Even more than that, the new leadership is understanding that it is the rabbinic literature of the Talmud that has sustained the Jewish people for 2,000 years. In the words of Ruth Calderon:
“I aspire to bring about a situation where Torah study will be something for all of Israel. That every young Israeli citizen will take part of the burden in Torah study and in military service.
“The Torah is not the property of one stream or another. It was given to everyone. No one took the Talmud and rabbinic literature from us. We gave them away because we had the more important task of building Zionism and now we need to reclaim what is ours.”
Agree or disagree with her perspective on Zionism vs. Torah study, she is bringing the study of Torah to the masses in Israel.
REFLECTING Calderon’s words above, this new election has brought a tangible sense of the dawn of a new era in the development of the Jewish people in Israel. There is a newness in the air. For starters, there seems to be a new discourse. The discourse of Torah. And the discourse of civility. Dare I say it about politicians, there is authenticity in caring to advance the well being of the Jewish people in Israel by genuinely trying to understand where different streams are coming from.
Some of Israel’s new leaders, such as The Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid’s Dov Lipman and Ruth Calderon, come across as having a genuine sense of calling and mission in their desire to be public servants.
They bring with them a change in atmosphere to the Knesset, a feeling of better, healthier more cohesive times for the Jews in Israel.
Like stages in the development of a human being, from newborn to toddler to child to teenager to young adult and then adult, perhaps Israel is entering a more mature stage in her identity as a modern state.
NAFTALI Bennett began his inaugural speech as member of Knesset by sharing an anecdote from his childhood. He and his brothers were sitting around talking amongst themselves about a kid in their neighborhood —how he is a friar. Now anyone who has ever lived in Israel knows about this forbidden word. To call someone a friar — a sucker — is the worst insult you can give an Israeli. Everyone goes to great lengths not to be thought of, let alone labeled, a friar.
Well, as Naftali Bennett is the son of American immigrants, his mom, who was overhearing her sons’ conversation and was unfamiliar with the word, asked her boys what it meant. Attempting to explain the Israeli slang to their all American mom, they said, “A friar is someone who helps others, someone who gives to others, while receiving nothing in return.”
Upon hearing this, Bennet’s kind mother replied, “So being a friar is good. I want you boys to become friars.”
Bennett turned to his fellow Knesset members and said, “Let’s be friars together.”
He said that in order to use this historic opportunity for change and advancement of their common goal of helping Israel, they could use becoming more friar-like in their collective mentality.
Bennett outlined three principles as part of his vision. His first principle: Torah study.
He spoke of how the study of Torah — this single text — is what ultimately united and sustained the Jews scattered all over the world for 2,000 years. He then turned and addressed “my haredi brothers” about contributing to the burden and responsibility of being Israeli by serving in the military, as well as about the importance of continued Torah study.
This was a first for a non-yeshiva oriented member of the Knesset —e xpressing such transparent reverence and gratitude for the potency of Torah study.
THEN came Ruth Calderon of Yesh Atid.
Her political debut basically amounted to a substantive and content-filled Talmud lesson in understanding a passage from the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Ketubot, folio page 62b. She said it conveyed a compassionate message about there being room for everyone in the Jewish people, about our interdependence and about making an effort to understand the differing yet legitimate sides to an argument.
With dignity and pedagogical skill, Calderon, on the Knesset floor, out of the a weathered Talmudic tome belonging to the grandfather of founder of Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, taught a Talmud class that has since gone viral on Facebook and Twitter.
Not the usual pattern for a political speech, or for that matter for a Talmud class, which is normally studied in small groups. In other words, Torah is becoming a new discourse and dialogue in Israel. A common language for all Jews, be they observant or secular.
In contrast to the secular Israel of my generation, which is devoid of Jewish knowledge, Calderon’s message to her constituents seems to be: Take back your birthright and heritage of the study of Torah texts. Build our inherited common language, which can serve to open the dialogue between us and, in time, understanding and respect, too.
How shall I put it? With this new election, looks like Yesh Atid L’Bayit Hayehudi — there is a new future for the House of Israel.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News