You may have caught sight of the story. A group of women, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform – including a number of my friends and colleagues – were arrested this week for the offense of praying at the Western Wall. They are part of the organisation Women of the Wall which has, for the past fifteen years been praying, reading from the Torah and wearing Tallit at the Wall. It was ugly and deeply disturbing to feel that Jews are denied religious freedoms in, of all places, Israel.
You can read more about the events of this last month at
Ripples of the row arrived at New Broadcasting House and I was invited to take part in a BBC World TV debate.
You can watch a clip here.
The question is who owns Judaism? Who gets to say what can and can’t be done in the name of Jewish practice and, more importantly, who gives power to those who want to wield that power to silence all voices other than their own.
The good news is that other voices, especially in Israel, are emerging. This week also saw the maiden Knesset speech of Ruth Calderon, newly elected MK in the Yesh Atid Party. Dr Calderon (PhD in Talmudic literature) takes a volume of the Talmud to the lectern with her and proceeds to talk about how her Zionist, Israeli and entirely secular education failed her, left her empty.
‘I lacked words for my vocabulary; a past, epics, heroes, places, drama, stories – were missing. The new Hebrew, created by educators from the country’s founding generation, realized their dream and became a courageous, practical, and suntanned soldier. But for me, this contained – I contained – a void. I did not know how to fill that void, but when I first encountered the Talmud and became completely enamored with it, its language, its humor, its profound thinking, its modes of discussion, and the practicality, humanity, and maturity that emerge from its lines, I sensed that I had found the love of my life, what I had been lacking.’
She teaches, quite beautifully a section of the Talmud, making the point that it is for everyone and that engaging in its richness can bring people together in greater understanding and respect, even in difference. The Speaker of the Kenesset, from the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party chips in with an interjection. There is debate, smiles abound. On the floor of the Kenesset a secular, entirely modern woman is teaching Talmud while Kippah wearing Ultra-orthodox deputies nod away.
I found the speech deeply moving.
There is a YouTube clip, in Hebrew, at
And a translation at
Israel has its challenges; it’s not easy to be a modern and a committed Jew. All this we know.
The good news is that, this week, there were also glimpses of solutions.