At the Talmud blog, we are interested in the Talmud wherever it is to be found – primarily in the academy but also in more traditional settings, midrashot for women, secular Israeli institutions, on Israeli televisions dramas, in South Korea, France, in the Islamic Republic of Iran….
This week, history was made when Dr. Ruth Calderon, a graduate of the Hebrew University Talmud department and head of Alma College, taught a passage of from the Bavli in her inaugural lecture in the Knesset – Israel’s parliament. Facebook and the Twittersphere have been abuzz with the news. Needless to say, the Knesset channel generally gets even less attention than C-Span does in the US. As one friend of the blog wondered, when was the last time a Talmud shiur went viral like this?
I am sure that the Talmud has been mentioned before in the Knesset, but I am equally sure that it has never been the center of a speech by an intellectual, non-Orthodox female Talmud scholar. Calderon is a master teacher, and though the passage was ultimately used to deliver a (humane) political message – it is the Knesset after all – it was done with genuine class and pedagogical skill. Calderon used an old volume from the grandfather of the head of her party – Yair Lapid – the quintessential, upper middle-class secular Israeli. She spoke forcefully of the need for all Israelis to return to the Talmud after a century in which the Bible had displaced its privileged place in the Jewish canon.
The image of a poised, learned woman teaching Talmud out of a weathered tome on the floor of the Israeli parliament was nothing short of inspiring. Many of us in Israel dream that Calderon will succeed in her goal of creating an educated Jewish Israeli public of both genders that is in touch with the one text that has sustained their people for so long. Let us hope.