Meet the MK: Ruth Calderon
20th in a series on the 48 new MKs; Yesh Atid MK and overnight YouTube sensation calls to abolish Chief Rabbinate.
YESH ATID MK Ruth Calderon gives her inaugural speech in the Knesset Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon became an overnight sensation last week, when she
used the 10 minutes allotted for her inaugural Knesset speech to teach Talmud to
her audience in the plenum, even handing out pages with sources.
speech reached over 171,000 hits on YouTube by press time, a week after it was
uploaded, and haredi news sources wrote panicked editorials about the rise of
the “new enlightenment.”
Since then, Calderon, who has a PhD in Talmud,
together with fellow Yesh Atid MK Shai Piron, a rabbi and educator, started what
they hope will be a weekly Torah class in the Knesset.
Calderon has a
great love of Torah and Talmud that she hopes to share with all Jews – including
those, like herself, who are not observant, and those who live in the
“For me, Jews who live outside of Israel are necessary partners
in building the Jewish state,” she said on Wednesday. “It’s the Jewish state,
not the Israeli Jewish state. I want to hear their voice, take them seriously,
and make this a place they’re proud of.”
Name: Ruth Calderon Party: Yesh
Atid Age: 51 Hometown: Tel Aviv Family status: Divorced, three children
Profession before becoming an MK: Director of Culture and Education Department
in the National Library; director of Alma – Home for Hebrew Culture; faculty
member at the Mandel Leadership Institute Why did you decide to enter politics?
I was very frustrated by the situation of the Jewish Renewal Movement in Israel,
which was growing spiritually, but suffers from a lack of budget and resources.
I thought that, until we have a voice in the political world, there would be no
There should be equality in the allocation of
Today, only Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox institutions receive
I see myself as a representative of secular Jews. English
speakers tend to think of denominations, but I’m postaffiliation or
I’m not part of [the Conservative or Reform movements] and
I don’t think it’s a good system. I want to represent anyone – even Orthodox
people – that believe Judaism should be open and serious.
What are the
first three bills you plan to propose? I decided to wait a month before
proposing any bills, because I want to learn first. I think that the bills I’ll
think of eventually will be founding a pluralist department for Jewish education
in the Education Ministry.
I also want there to be allocation of
resources to all areas of Jewish life, according to the number of people who
hold that stance or want services from an organization. I need to think how to
build [legislation on the topic]. In addition, I want to deal with public
broadcasting on television and radio. It can be a lighthouse of Jewish culture,
but channels do not use their potential because of unnecessary
What was the most interesting experience on the campaign
trail? I very much enjoyed spending early mornings at intersections, giving out
fliers with candidates and activists. The amazing young activists and people on
the street gave me a feeling of renewal and hope.
This Knesset has a
record high number of women and religious people. How do you think this will
affect the way it functions and the kinds of changes it brings? This is just a
stop on the way to full equality in representation for women. We have a long way
to go. I think that we will see greater sensitivity to women’s issues, and that
we have a chance to see more creative, softer ways of thinking. There will be
more compromise and less arguing because of the new women and new MKs in
Do you think haredim and Arabs should perform military or
national service, and if so, how should the state enforce it? They have a
privilege and opportunity to serve, which we all have, and we want to give them.
Doing civilian service together is an opportunity for solidarity between
citizens. It doesn’t have to be forced. I think the Arab and haredi communities
are interested in taking part and serving. We need to find smart ways to give
everyone a chance to contribute their capabilities. Today, haredim and Arabs
don’t have the opportunities to serve in schools, MDA, kindergartens or as
firefighters. It isn’t just about the army.
Do you support a religious-
Zionist chief candidate, such as Rabbi David Stav, for the Chief Rabbinate? This
is my personal opinion, not Yesh Atid. I hope that one day there will not be a
rabbinate. I have respect for Rabbi Stav, but I don’t need a Chief Rabbinate in
my life and I don’t think there should be one. Each person should have a rabbi
they choose. Chief rabbi doesn’t need to be a national political position. I
think every citizen should get a voucher for Jewish cultural services and will
decide which organization or movement or synagogue will get his or her voucher.
The nation will decide, people will decide, instead of receiving a dictate from
What can be done to lower the cost of housing in Israel? Yesh Atid
has a clear plan to use state land to build 150,000 rental apartments for young
couples and those in need within the next five years.
What do you think
can be cut in the budget, which must be passed within 45 days of the
government’s swearing in? We need to lower the defense budget and increase
education, but I am currently learning about economic and budgetary issues. I
don’t want to talk about what I’m still learning.
What is your position
on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state? I
agree with Yesh Atid’s policy of two states for two nations and immediate talks
in hopes of reaching peace. I dream that in my time I will see peace in the
[With Tzipi Livni joining the coalition] we are at an
intersection, and I’m waiting to see where things go – positive or
Do you support the adoption of the Edmund Levy Report, which
recommends the state approve unauthorized Jewish settlements in the West Bank?
We need to get rid of small settlements and keep big blocs. I don’t know the
report well, so I don’t want to comment on what I didn’t read.