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.

Ruth Calderon 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Ruth Calderon 370
(photo credit: 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.
Her 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 Diaspora.
“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 solution.
There should be equality in the allocation of resources.
Today, only Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox institutions receive funding.
I see myself as a representative of secular Jews. English speakers tend to think of denominations, but I’m postaffiliation or denomination.
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 complications.
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 general.
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 above.
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 Middle East.
[With Tzipi Livni joining the coalition] we are at an intersection, and I’m waiting to see where things go – positive or negative.
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.