Shulamit Aloni, heretic of blessed memory

Shulamit Aloni was a groundbreaking pioneer and standard bearer for issues that she fervently believed in. In the days when the values of human rights, peace and feminism were less accepted in Israeli society than they are even today, she dared to talk about them with profound courage, paying a high political price. This is something I greatly admire.

I will miss her heretical side tremendously. Shulamit Aloni was a heretic for the sake of being a heretic. Without feeling the need to apologize – no cover stories, no euphemisms, without compromise and without reconciliation. She clung to her honesty, to her truth, to a consistent line of thinking, and challenged quite a few people brave and thoughtful people. Whenever I invited her to speak at “Meimad” events she happily participated, taking part in panels and meaningful discourse. I remember so well, a discussion she had with Rabbi Yehuda Amital z”l regarding the issue of civil marriage in Israel. By way of background, I’ll mention that this conversation took place about 20 years ago, when the entire political system, including the ruling Labor Party, was vehemently opposed to raising this issue for discussion, and not only because of political considerations. As a member of the panel Shulamit Aloni spoke her mind with fervor and brilliance. I saw that her well developed arguments were challenging Rabbi Amital, and that he in his greatness, agreed and accepted her position that a government cannot impose through legislation the way in which people get married. True, this story says much about Rabbi Amital’s character and personality, but it is no less indicative of Shulamit Aloni’s character.

I cannot help but add an aside, that if the current governance laws being proposed to increase the electoral threshold for a party to enter Knesset had been in effect then, Shulamit Aloni and “Ratz”, would never have been elected to the Knesset. It is likely, in that case that Israeli public life would have been deprived of Shulamit Aloni entirely.

Naturally, we had our arguments and disagreements. Shulamit Aloni was raised with a very broad and deep secular education alongside a cultural Jewish education rich in Biblical studies, Hebrew language, Talmud and Jewish philosophy. She felt that also in our times, children were growing up within an educational system that sanctifies education in general and Jewish education in particular. Our arguments were always related to this issue. For some reason she was not able to accept that our educational system does not offer the same cultural wealth that was part and parcel of the education she received in her youth. Unfortunately she failed in realizing that there was a need to change the educational agenda in order to continue to turn out students such as herself. I always believed that our society would be built on the mutual nourishment to be found along the seam between the best G-d fearing students and the best heretical ones. Shulamit Aloni personified the image of the best heretical student. She knew how to encourage, how to challenge and how to analyze. Her positions left an important mark and I have no doubt that they will continue to influence and guide Israeli society in positive directions long after her death.

May her memory be for a blessing.

About the Author
Rabbi Michael Melchior is a leading advocate for social justice in Israel, education for all, Jewish-Arab reconciliation and co-existence, protection of the environment, and Israel-Diaspora relations. Through his work, Rabbi Melchior seeks to strengthen Israeli civil society so it may catalyze significant social change in the State of Israel. He was a member of Knesset for the Meimad Party. Rabbi Melchior continues to hold the title of Chief Rabbi of Norway.
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