During my daily morning Internet ritual, I discovered a fascinating The Times of Israel article “Yesh Atid Initiates Knesset Torah Study Group.” Some acquaintances on social media sites were linking to it and commenting on it, so I suppose interest in it extends to others as well. But what really struck me was the different comments I saw: “So much to love about this story, including that it took a centrist, ‘secular’ party and a woman Torah scholar to bring Torah study into the Knesset.”
“Hm. This seems like a perilous road to go down.”
This one article elicited such opposing reactions, which got me thinking in more depth about the idea of Torah study by those who govern a democratic Jewish society.
- What place does Torah study have in a governing body that includes haredim, religious Zionists, secular Jews, and Arabs?
- What is the reason behind initiating Torah study in any governmental institution?
- Is Torah study necessarily religious in nature?
- What value, if any, does Torah have in the Jewish state?
- Should Torah be a necessary element in Israel education?
This last question is one that I have considered many times before. Anyone who has discussed Israel education with me, or has seen People, Place, & Self: The Jewish Connection to Israel, knows that I see the Jewish people’s biblical and rabbinic histories as crucial to our understanding of the entire history of the Jewish people and the connection to Israel. Whatever an individual’s theology, belief that Torah is fact or myth, divine or mortal, the Torah – both written and oral – serves as THE foundation of the Jewish literary cannon and Jewish communal history. Without knowing its telling of how the Jewish people became a nation and came to see Israel as home, one cannot understand why Jews still talked about and pined for Israel in the nineteenth century (prior to the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel).
Before reading this article – rather, before seeing the different comments on this article – I had not applied the question about Torah in Israel education to Israel’s government. Now, I have a new question to consider: Should Torah knowledge be necessary for those who run the democratic Jewish country?