Former MK Dr. Ruth Calderon cofounded Beit Midrash Elul, Jerusalem’s first beit midrash for secular and religious women and men, with an Orthodox partner. According to Dr. Calderon, the idea that a beit midrash has to serve only one group or the other is divisive—and incorrect. Instead, as she explained at the beginning of the interview, she preferred a meeting place that would create unity: “We believed that we were building a bridge between the religious and the secular, and that we were building something new.” Yet “a few days after the murder, I suddenly realized that our religious members—mainly our members from Judea and Samaria—had suddenly stopped coming. They’d stopped picking up the phone. They felt insulted and blamed. I learned from that that it would take a long time to build a trusting relationship between us.” Adds Rabbi Hananel Etrog, head of Yeshivat Shavei Hevron: “I think the assassination hurt us more than all the Arab countries ever could. It hurt our unity, and there’s nothing for us to do here if we aren’t united.”
Professor Meir Buzaglo said: “In general, they talked about democracy as a challenge that the Right had to meet, or else the messianic religious community or some other. Today we understand that all of us are responsible for democracy. No one is immune, no one was born democratic. People have to make themselves democratic, and that means respecting the decisions of the people around me. Even if I don’t agree, democracy is a condition—a condition for everything. At this point, as we know, unless we rely on miracles, it’s a condition for the continued existence of the State of Israel.” Professor Meir Buzaglo is a founder of Kedma, a nonprofit organization that works for equality and social justice in Israel through education.
Click here for the complete interview with Professor Meir Buzaglo
Rabbi Etrog and Dr. Calderon also commented on the nature of controversy and how to deal with it. “I have opinions that not everyone likes,” said Rabbi Etrog. “I’m the head of a yeshiva in Hevron. Not everyone thinks that increases the chances for peace. I think it does, but I don’t intend to soften my
views. It’s not pleasant—you need a lot of courage to hear doubt being cast on your truth. There are lots of reasons for tensions between brothers. He’s not always your cup of tea. He doesn’t always see eye to eye with you. Not at all—but he’s my brother.” “We all stood at Mount Sinai,” added Dr. Calderon. “We all received the Torah. It doesn’t say anywhere in the Torah that the Torah is only for the Orthodox or only for men. The Torah belongs to the entire nation of Israel.”
Click here for the complete interview with Rabbi Hananel Etrog of Yeshivat Shavei Hevron
“The nation of Israel is composed of tribes,” said Rabbi Etrog. “Twelve tribes. Twelve vital organs, as the Sages said. Nothing here is expendable. It’s impossible to do without the kidneys, or the pancreas, or the lungs, or the heart. In my vision, I see all of us, through the arguments, growing into something much newer.” Dr. Calderon said: “I try as much as possible to meet, get to know, learn about, and have arguments with people who aren’t from my neighborhood, who don’t walk in my circles, in order to open my mind, because I learned from the Talmud that in order for the Torah to be opened up and understood, there needs to be someone on the other side. I need to go through the difficulty of meeting someone different and listening sympathetically—that I’m not just tolerating you, but you, the person on the other side, have a piece of wisdom that I can’t get to if I don’t get over myself. It’s possible to have an argument respectfully, without cursing at each other, without insulting each other, and to learn from that argument, and that’s the greatness, or part of the greatness, of the Sages: the fact that their way of studying the Torah was through argument.” Dr. Ruth Calderon is a former Knesset member and the founder of the Alma Home for Hebrew Culture.
Click here for the complete interview with Dr. Ruth Calderon
“And once you’ve set yourself aside and listened until the very end,” says Dr. Calderon, “sometimes you’ll find something new there, and sometimes you’ll say, ‘Then we disagree.’” Professor Buzaglo concluded: “Unity is a much bigger value already. You don’t build it by having common ground, but mainly by having a common vision. Unity comes from the fact of a common mobilization for the destiny of the Jewish people, the destiny of the State of Israel, and a redefinition of that destiny. Whatever we do, what’s most important is to do it together. We’re a very small nation. That being the case, we don’t have the luxury of splintering and starting to invest in fights with each other.”