Religion, State, and Jewish National Israeli Culture (Ruth Calderon at the Knesset)


Appearing today online at Open Zion are my churlish remarks concerning the recent and much discussed inaugural speech at the Knesset of Ruth Calderon, a new parliamentarian with Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party. Here’s some of what I said:

Like her party leader, MK Calderon, in her speech, wants Judaism and Jewishness, wants to be herself all things to everyone. But to make matters worse, she drags the religion of Talmud onto the podium of the Knesset to highlight her political, now legislative devotion to promoting the unity of Jewish national Israeli culture….It’s not that I think religion or educators and the texts they cherish and teach have no role to play in society, even a political one. But not ensconced and privileged from inside [a legislative body]. Nor do I believe, not for a minute, that it is or should be, as claimed by the new member of Knesset, the state’s job to “magnify” and “glorify” the Torah.

You can read the entire article at Open Zion here, and the full English translation of MK Calderon’s address here.

Like a lot of people, many of my friends were excited by the speech, because it represents a woman, in Israel, asserting her ownership and authority as a secular woman with and over the Jewish textual tradition. And that is a very cool thing. But context is everything, because if it was such a radical move, why was there no outrage expressed by MK Calderon’s more conservative religious fellow parliamentarians? There was none. I think it’s a strange thing to teach Talmud in such a public, political space.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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