JPost: Secular Israelis are Studying Talmud

The Talmud tells a bit cryptically about a cultural change that happened in ancient Judaism in conjunction with the overthrow of the Patriarch Rabban Gamaliel and the rise of his successor R. Eleazar b. Azariah (b. Ber. 27b-28a - cited here from my first book, The Traditions of Eleazar ben Azariah, p. 152):
GG. On that day he was eighteen years old. A miracle befell him and eighteen
rows of his hair turned white.
HH. This is as R. Eleazar b. Azariah said, ``Behold I am as a seventy year old.''
II. On that day they removed the door keeper, and permission was given for the students to enter.
JJ. For R. Gamaliel used to announce, ``Any student whose inside is not like his outside--should not enter the house of study.''
KK. On that day a number of benches were added.
LL. Said R. Yohanan, ``The matter is disputed by Abba b. Dostai and the Rabbis.
MM. ``One said, `Four hundred benches were added.'
NN. ``And one said, `Seven hundred [were added].' ''
OO. R. Gamaliel was disturbed. He said, ``Perhaps, God forbid, I have withheld Torah from Israel.''
PP. He saw in a dream white casks filled with ashes (a good sign).
QQ. But that was not the case. He was shown that only to calm his mind.
In Israel over the past two decades a slower but still noticeable parallel change has been occurring according to a story in the Jerusalem Post, "Reinventing Tradition." It seems that some contemporary institutions of Talmud study in Israel have, "removed the door keeper," and have given permission for new students to enter.
For the last 20 years, a new approach to Torah study has allowed people who previously had no foothold in this area to partake. Behind what appears to be a never-ending trend seems to lie a real urge to reach out to the ancient sacred texts, which had been, at least until recent years, the exclusive domain of religious men. No more, however. Clearly, some deep change is taking place in Israeli society, which sees in the Talmud something that should be accessible for everyone.

Today, there are 100 pluralistic - or liberal - batei midrash across the country, a few of them in Jerusalem, where the first one, Elul, was created 20 years ago; but the bulk of them are in the Tel Aviv region, with a few scattered in the north and the south of the country.
Of course, this notion of a growing cadre of secular Talmudists is music to our ears. We think everyone should become a Talmudist.

At the end of the article the author raises the 800 pound gorilla in the room question. Is there an ulterior motive in the movement? Are these study halls a means of converting Jews back to religious observance?
One thing is surely shared by all: The pluralistic batei midrash are not intended to encourage any process of repentance or return to religion. "This is absolutely not our aim," says Calderon. "Sometimes people come and they are somewhat suspicious on this issue, but they quickly realize that this is not our goal and nothing is done to encourage it."

"The aim of the batei midrash is to turn a polemic or a dispute into a dilemma for your own self. It is a means to find inside myself the seeds of another possibility I was not aware of before. And it is, of course, the best tool with which to create a real dialogue between us, beyond all the differences, like the differences between the religious and the secular," concludes Perlmutter.

Hava Pinhas-Cohen, a poet and longtime participant in Elul and Kolot, says, "These batei midrash are the best way to pass down to the next generations our cultural legacy. It is also the best way to ensure that we will have a cultural renewal in the State of Israel."
Sounds like there really are places where Talmud is studied for its own sake.


Theophrastus said...

This is really an inevitable consequence of the Steinsaltz Talmud -- not dissimilar to what has happened to Talmud study in the US as a result of the Artscroll Talmud. These works have literally opened the doors of Talmud study to everyone.

tzvee said...

There is a great deal more material that educators have been publishing for the schools for many years - more useful than Steinsaltz. It's always the availability of talented and dedicated teachers that make the impact, not the textbooks or resources. Those are just the "benches" in the study hall.