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In New Knesset, a True Maverick

Why Ruth Calderon, a Talmud scholar and rookie politician, has a shot at breaking the Orthodox monopoly on Judaism

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Ruth Calderon. (Daniella Cheslow)

Every new member of Israel’s Knesset gives a debut speech, and this year, with 48 rookies, the docket was full, with parliamentarians introducing their résumés, their proposed policies, and their hopes for the coming four-year term. One decided to ignore convention altogether. This member of Knesset used the allotted time to teach Talmud.

A full third of the 19th Knesset are observant Jews, but it wasn’t any of them. It was a woman named Ruth Calderon, a Talmud scholar and the founder of two Jewish houses of study. She was elected to Knesset as No. 13 on the list of Yesh Atid, a new party headed by former journalist Yair Lapid that swept the recent elections, earning 19 seats on a promise to bring about a more equal Israel, including by drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the army.

Standing in front of her colleagues with a volume of the Talmud given to her by Lapid’s grandfather David Giladi, Calderon offered photocopies of the section she was explicating—a story about Rabbi Rechumei who studied so hard before one Yom Kippur that he did not make it home to his wife before the fast began. As his wife cried at home, Rechumei studied on the roof of his school, and the roof caved in, and he died.

The room was quiet as Calderon told this story, except for when the session’s ultra-Orthodox moderator, Shas MK Yizhak Vaknin, interceded to strengthen her point. Calderon said Rechumei’s name included the root of the Hebrew word rechem, meaning womb, as well as rachamim, mercy. Vaknin said if one would rearrange the letters, to read ramah, its numerological value would total 248, the number of organs in the human body.

Vaknin: Rechem also [has a numerologically significant] value of 248.

Calderon: Thank you. Yasher Koach. Thank you for participating.

Vaknin: I think the idea she is saying is wonderful …

Calderon: I am happy about this participation in the words of Torah.

Calderon ended her talk with a prayer, calling out to the “God of her fathers and mothers” to help her and her party do good work in government. The speech went viral, gaining almost 200,000 eyeballs within a week—and it was certainly the only time when a female member of Knesset taught about the Talmud.

Calderon’s fundamental message—that all Israelis should have access to and knowledge of Judaic sources—was steeped in Jewish tradition, but nevertheless, it was explosive. That’s because Calderon, along with her colleagues in Yesh Atid, wants to renegotiate the relationship between religious and secular in Israel. She wants an end to the rabbinate’s monopoly on the control of weddings, conversions, and the other touchstones of Jewish life in Israel. She wants to include the ultra-Orthodox in mandatory military or national service, and ensure equal funding for secular and Orthodox institutions of Jewish study. In the meantime, she is bolstering the Jewish character of the Knesset with a weekly Torah study group that she initiated with fellow Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Shai Piron.

“The Torah is not the property of any stream,” Calderon said in her debut speech. “We gave it away, when we thought there was a more important task, to build the army and the state and farming and industry. Now we must take back what is ours.”

Her message was received with delight among non-Orthodox but religiously committed Jewish Israelis. “Ruth’s debut speech in the Knesset was the moment that broke the Orthodox monopoly in official Israel,” Yossi Klein Halevi, a writer and a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, told me. He added that he sent the YouTube video of Calderon’s talk to his friends because “I couldn’t restrain myself.”

In some Haredi circles, though, it raised a panic. The Kikar Hashabbat online Haredi news portal posted the video of Calderon’s speech, in rare exception to its ban on images of women. The editorial that day read: “We realized that we are watching on live broadcast the new Enlightenment, the new powers that have risen and want to destroy the Haredi society as it is today.”


I met Ruth Calderon on her second day at her new job. Her Knesset office was bare, save for an album by rock musician Shem Tov Levi and cups of identical pens and pencils. “I don’t know where I’m going to put the Talmud. It’s too tall for the shelves here,” she said. Calderon’s brown hair was tied back in a bun, and she wore a long gray cardigan over a black dress, tights, and boots. Red rose earrings broke the monochrome. “I’m the third child after two big brothers and a Sephardic father, and the same need to be free as a woman is same need to be free as a secular Jew,” Calderon said.

Calderon, 51, grew up in Tel Aviv to a Bulgarian father and German mother, the youngest of three siblings. Judaism was not absent in the Calderon home—they kept kosher and celebrated Jewish holidays. But it was not fully present either. Life was a mix of traditions and the modern secular Israeli existence. Her father taught her it was an honor to be a Jew.

Calderon told me she was raised on a history of “from Tanach to Palmach”—that is, from the Torah stories to modern Israeli history. “The education in the beginning of this country made a point of trying to create a new Jew,” she said. “And the cultural diet they gave to new Jews was the Bible. That was the basis of this revival of the Jewish people in their land and then straight to modern thought. I think they were intentionally keeping us away from rabbinic literature because they felt it was the Diaspora and it was weak.”

Then one day in high school, Calderon’s principal substituted for a teacher on maternity leave. “He taught Talmud, and I was like, ‘Wow, where did they hide this all my life?’ ” Calderon said. She got another taste when a guest lecturer, Bible scholar Ari Elon, visited her base when she served as a cultural guide, leading hikes and organizing holiday celebrations in the Armored Corps. After the lesson, she asked Elon where she could learn Talmud. He suggested the Oranim College in northern Israel, and after her service Calderon hitched a ride to the campus. She earned her bachelor’s degree and teacher’s certificate there. In 1985, after graduating from Oranim, Calderon enrolled in the prestigious Talmud Department of Hebrew University, made famous as the setting for the celebrated Israeli film Footnote.

“I was the only one without a beard,” she said. “There was even a man who told me, ‘Don’t be offended, but I won’t sit next to you.’ I was a peculiar bird, but I enjoyed it.” Calderon said she felt at home in a man’s world because of her upbringing among her brothers. It helped that she had good mentors. One professor took her aside in the beginning of her studies, she said. “He said, ‘Miss Calderon, don’t be afraid of them. It seems they have many years in yeshiva and you have not but I must tell you they played a lot of basketball in yeshiva, and if you will be serious then within two years you will know everything that they know.’ ”

While she studied Talmud, Calderon also enrolled in courses at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, known for its pluralistic, open-minded approach toward Judaism. Eventually, she said, she wanted to start her own institution rather than being a guest in another school. That is how she and a colleague created Elul, a secular beit midrash, or house of learning, in the Greek Colony of southern Jerusalem in 1989. The goal was to teach Talmud to secular Israelis in a house of study they’d feel comfortable in, and where Calderon, as a woman, could teach.

Last week, more than a dozen middle-aged Israelis pored over Talmud pages in an old Jerusalem stone building. The topic was the pilgrimage to Jerusalem ancient Jews used to make three times a year when the Holy Temple was still standing. One read in Aramaic about a story told by Rabbi Pinchas of two brothers who left their home in Ashkelon to go to Jerusalem. While they were gone, thieves eyed their house. God placed angels in the home to deter the thieves, showing that when a man goes to Jerusalem, God will make sure he returns to a full house.

“Is this supposed to convince me to go to Jerusalem?” asked Yehuda Taubman, a graying man wearing a black sweater. “This story is really infantile.” Taubman is both an instructor and a student at Elul, where he has come for the last 12 years. Taubman told me he was educated in Orthodox religious schools, where Talmud study was focused on debates concerning relevant Jewish law. He studied with Calderon for a year, and said she often looked for the stories and dramas in the Talmud, in what he found a refreshing approach. “Just as there are beautiful things I learn from the Talmud, I also like being honest about the things I don’t agree with,” Taubman told me. “The sages did the same thing with the Talmud.”

After seven years running Elul full time, in 1996 Calderon founded Alma: Home for Hebrew Culture in Tel Aviv. It has since become an institution in the city, drawing celebrated Israeli musicians, artists, and thinkers to its courses on the Bible, Talmud, Middle Ages, and modern Jewish literature. Then-journalist Yair Lapid was on the board of Alma. He and Calderon studied together for a year while Lapid wrote a book about biblical heroes. Calderon said Lapid mentioned politics to her, but she wasn’t interested at the time.

Calderon remained chairwoman of the board of Alma until she was elected to Knesset, and in the last year, she also worked as head of culture and education at the National Library in Jerusalem. She said she changed her mind about politics by the time Lapid started drafting his list of candidates for the 2013 elections. “My frustration as head of Alma was in seeing how for so many years no governmental funding is coming to us or to any other pluralistic institution,” she said. “So, I told myself, somebody of our pluralistic world needs to break the glass wall to where decisions are made. We keep knocking on the door here for so many years and nobody opens.”

The knocking may not have paid off yet in terms of government policy, but Calderon’s deep involvement in the world of what she calls “Jewish renewal” has helped grow a real movement in which she is an undisputed leader. In Jerusalem alone, Elul is now one of 22 other pluralistic-minded Jewish organizations that have sprung up over the past 20 years. And academics, activists, and think tanks are not the only so-called secular Israelis going back to the sources. “Army radio is playing Ibn Gvirol and Yehuda Halevi and 19th-century Moroccan prayers along with the usual pop songs,” Halevi said. “Israelis are in a spiritual search. The question is what kind of Jewish spiritual lives will those of us who don’t define ourselves as Orthodox create?”

Calderon in the Knesset will be a concrete manifestation of the demand for secular Jews to have the same legitimacy as the Orthodox to make decisions about the shape of Jewish public life in Israel. “There are many people in the Knesset who share this ideology, but Ruth is different because she has taught,” said Donniel Hartman, current president of the Hartman Institute. “She’s the real article.” MK Shai Piron, the rabbi who is leading the study group with Calderon, told me she is “full of grace and has a great heart.” He added: “It’s a very new voice that is waking up in the Israeli society. I think what she is doing is taking the Gemara, something that was language of a very limited community, and making it the language of all of Israel.”


Calderon’s debut speech came only days after 10 women were detained at the Western Wall for wearing prayer shawls. The women, including Rabbi Susan Silverman, the sister of comedian Sarah Silverman, have been reading Torah, praying out loud, and wearing prayer shawls at the Kotel since 1988 in an attempt to break the Orthodox monopoly of the holy site. The women are sometimes arrested by police and have been attacked by ultra-Orthodox men and women who say they are breaking the law and desecrating the site.

“If you compare Ruth’s performance in the Knesset to the Women of the Wall, you have to ask yourself which is the most effective way to defeat the Orthodox monopoly on Judaism in Israel,” said Halevi. “Is it by literally breaking one’s head against the wall, or is it by entering the mainstream, with love and good will, and being yourself?”

While some Orthodox leaders are worried by Calderon’s message, others were less ruffled. Shas MK Vaknin, the moderator during Calderon’s speech, told me, “When she started telling the story I felt connected right away.” Vaknin also offered his amen to Calderon’s egalitarian blessing. “I don’t know why you are surprised,” he said. “Israel has a wide mosaic of people and opinions, and we must accept every person for who he is.”

All the same, Vaknin hinted that it would not be easy to get Haredi scholars out of yeshiva and into the army. Vaknin, who himself completed army service, recalled a passage in Numbers 32:6, when Moses asks the tribes of Gad and Reuven, “Will your brothers go to war while you sit here?”

“Those who say that forget one thing,” he said. “In the time of Moshe there was an entire tribe that did nothing but holy work: Levy.”

Calderon, for her part, hopes her approach can bridge over these gaps. She said Yesh Atid is drafting a new status quo for secular-religious relations, including yeshiva study, army service, and the rules of holy places. “I respect [Women of the Wall] greatly, and I feel pain when they are hurt, but it’s not my way,” she said. “I want to try to build a coalition with the different communities of Jews that will enable us to live our lives the way we want to, but then to also feel respected, and to live together.”


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Best of luck to her

If the author would of have taken a few moments to peruse other Haridie viewpoints she would have discovered that they did not share the perspective of the website Kikar Shabbat

Calderon is attempting to discover the core of her identity through Torah, while other Israelis seek that with a secular brand of Zionism devoid of a spiritual identity for the most recent fad of western culture.

The Women of the Wall are motivated by the desire to create conflict-they can pray as they wish in the area set aside by the Supreme Court for non traditional prayer. They want to impose their modifications to Jewish belief and practice on others.

Calderon seems to be on an honest quest of Jewish knowledge. This is something that should be celebrated.

    ChicagoTeamster says:

    Yasher Koach to both MK Calderon & Women of the Wall. Much of the Orthodox establishment wants it both ways. They want Rabbis to have state power and be above secular law when they see fit. “Separation of church & state” is probably a bridge too far for Israel at this moment. But much more state neutrality in religious matters is urgently needed.

      RJH18 says:

      If u want secular law then Israel will disappear and become an arab state. It is not a democracy, just ask the Palestinians.

wildjew says:

I wonder why the Talmud rather than Tanakh has such a mesmerizing effect over Jewish consciousness. People like to talk about how the Jewish Bible does not accord with science, yet I’ve seen nothing substantive to back up this charge. But what of the Talmud? Prior to forty days, the infant in the womb is “mere fluid…” That’s scientific? And what of morals and ethics? If you say David sinned in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite you are in error is moral? Control “of weddings, conversions, and the other touchstones of Jewish life in Israel” should be in the hands of Orthodox rabbis. I am not saying any particular sect or stream of Orthodox Judaism should have a monopoly but putting these things in the hands of liberal rabbis would be a catastrophe.

    The Talmud is a tapestry of opinions, not of scientific truths, and thereby it keeps the waves of thought running, and counters monochromatic thinking.

      wildjew says:

      You say it is opinion. I think you would get a strong refutation by Orthodox Jews who believe Talmud is law; every bit as weighty and authoritative as the written law of Moses.

        I am Orthodox but Talmud teaches you a certain way of thinking and reconciling contradictions that Tanakh doesnt. If I wanted to learn just the laws I could look in the Shulchan Orach which is far easier to study

          wildjew says:

          OK. Can you provide some examples of contradictions Talmud teaches us to reconcile? If you would cite book and chapter (e.g. Shabbath 55b) I’ve got the entire Soncino Talmud.

Rafel Simcha says:

Change is GOOD! A friend of mine said to me that if one relives the past (a Miggila) in Judaism we will never get closer to the light. We of course, must know the past to not make the same mistakes. A positive change like this is a good thing I believe!.

With this lady the talmud and the torah have a future in israel .Amen.

    It depends on how u define Talmud and Torah. Her version of the Talmud and the Torah is not Talmud and Torah.

      Saint_Etienne says:

      Pray, tell us what exactly is revisionist in her “version” of the Talmud? As far as I know she is reading the same text as you do.

        Its not reading a page of Talmud that is the issue. It’s her lack of understanding that lead to “”She wants an end to the rabbinate’s monopoly on the control of weddings, conversions, and the other touchstones of Jewish life in Israel. She wants to include the ultra-Orthodox in mandatory military or national service, and ensure equal funding for secular and Orthodox institutions of Jewish study” In other words she wants:

        1. To allow secularists to determine Jewish law. This is not only antithetical to Torah teachings but has always led to disaster for the Jewish people.

        2. Ensure equal funding for secular institutions of Jewish study. Traditional Jewish texts are not open for interpretations that seeks to upend traditional Torah Judaism. In their ignorance and arrogance what they are saying that they know better then the hundreds of scholarly Rabbis of the last 2 thousands years who have ensured our survival to this day.

        This is what I mean by revisonist. It’s been tried many times in the past and always led to disaster. There is nothing novel here. It’s the same old recycled distortions.

          Saint_Etienne says:

          It seems to me that you see what you want to see. Please try to look at the issue again with no prejudice: MK Calderon does not want to determine Jewish Law. She want to study the Talmud. What can possibly be wrong with that

          No one is stopping her from learning Talmud. But I think u are missing the point of the article. “She wants an end to the rabbinate’s monopoly on the control of weddings, conversions, and the other touchstones of Jewish life in Israel.” This is playing with Jewish law.

          Saint_Etienne says:

          That is a bit of pluralism, a draught of fresh air if you like. Anyway, I think it is you who is missing the point of the article.

          That is like saying that it is okay to voice an opinion on astrophysics with not even a rudimentary knowledge of the subject. You certaintly can voice ur opinion but it will carry no weight with those in the know.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          Okay, And she has a PhD from Hebrew U. You’re saying she has a rudimentary opinion? When the Shas MK interrupted her philological discussion of a word with a gematria and she embraced his contribution without hesitating for a second?

          RJH18 says:

          I don’t care if she has a PhD from Harvard. Why do u think this gives her any more understanding of Torah than a goldfish. One has to study with masters to become proficient. Masters are those who live and breathe their endeavor. Those who study Judaism in a jewish secular institution is like one who studies cleanliness in a sewer. As regards the the Shas MK who made the idiotic comment on the gematria his words belie his ignorance. Gematrias are never used to prove a point in Talmud.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          Hey buddy, she was citing an agad’ta anyway, first of all, and second, she still cited more gemara to prove her point *in that speech alone* than you have this entire thread. You’ve made sweeping claims about the nature of the Talmud without having cited it once, and similarly arrogant claims about academic Talmud study without any citations either for that matter. But I’m glad you brought up how in gemara we need to PROVE something. You’re fond of calling people idiots, but where’s your source?

          The gemara does express opinions on Greek wisdom, dina d’malchuta dina, and many MANY relevant sugyas. Much of it can help us in reaching a conclusion about the modern secular state, but it can’t say anything explicitly can it? Since there was no secular state, and wouldn’t be one for over a thousand years. You’re either drawing your own conclusions from source materials that you think are salient while ignoring the ones that undermine your point—and calling everyone else ignoramuses for not agreeing with that—or assuming an opinion based on what you think *must be* an underlying assumption of the halachic system as far as the gemara understands it, then calling everyone else ignormauses for not agreeing with that.

          More to the point, stop pointing and shouting “idiot! Idiot! Idiot!” without a single citation to back up your position. All you’re showing is that you probably need to learn more before opening your mouth.

          RJH18 says:

          And Ruth Calderon is able to rise above all the learned and great rabbanim of our time as well as of history to form an understanding of that displays her dramatic depth of understanding that is much greater and wiser then theirs. I bow before her and your intellectual superiority.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          And you you escalate. Instead of talking about the entirety of the gemara and academic Talmud study, you talk about all rabbanut in history and all rabbanim alive today. But you’ve made things harder for yourself in the process. Before, all you had to do was cite enough gemara to back your point about civil and religious authority. Now, you’re saying the view’s unanimous. All someone needs to do is cite any rav alive or dead who’s fine with secular authority ruling of a rabbinic system and you’re gone. But you can’t even cite one out of every rabbi that ever was to make your point, and instead you proffer nasty empty sarcasm.

          Go learn more and do a cheshbon a nefesh, because this conversation in every conceivable way is bitul zman.

          RJH18 says:

          Being that you obviously do not accept rabbinic authority and therefore feel free to debate and form your interpretations of talmudic law I see no point in quoting sources other than to tell u look at Bava Metzia 59B (the story of Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages) where rabbinic authority is established.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          Making me work for it? Not really. That’s the famous aggad’ta of tanur d’achnai, no? An aggad’ta? As a basis for forming conclusions? Well, I’ll bite. The theme of that one is basically that the torah has been given to us and is our responsibility, not shamayim’s. No mention of secular authority there at all. If you want to read it as a morality tale of how powerful rabbinic authority is over everything in the universe, you can. Hell, you can ruin anything you like, son.

          Here’s another thing: I’m a frum Jew who believes in ikarei emunah, and your comment that I dont accept rabbinic authority is not only crass and thoughtless, but in some contexts it’s an accusation that might even have halachic consequences. How strange your Judaism doesn’t involve debate. Maybe that’s why instead of debating you just jump up and down in the same spot shouting “Of course I’m right! Of course I am!” over and over. AmIright? Yeh.

          RJH18 says:

          WHAT IS YOUR POINT????

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          That you’re incapable of making your point, but totally capable of getting angry and tossing around insults instead.

          RJH18 says:

          And according to you, what was my point?

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          I like this. I’ll remember when the time comes that one good way to deal with a tantrum is to get the child so confused he wonders how it started.

          RJH18 says:

          I’m not wondering but its clear from your responses that ur clueless about what the point is which has me wondering why you have taken so much time to respond to a point which you aren’t clear about.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          You’re lying, though. Asking me to state your point should already prove how much you’ve failed in being clear, and since you’d rather try and trap me, or even backpedal if I happen to be right anyway, than just STATE IT YOURSELF, it’s apparently not *about* a clear position for you. It’s about disgracing and discrediting anyone disagreeing with you. In the course of this thread I’ve already made a number of points about your position you didn’t contest at all. You get to be vague and declare triumph, then you get to be vague and challenge me to pin your position down *for* you so you can then change your position and declare triumph again. It’s as dishonest an argument as you probably are a person.

          RJH18 says:

          This whole thread has nothing to do with my point for you. Its all about u being right and feeling like u triumphed over another. Case in point is that if u felt my point was vague why didn’t u ask me to restate it clearly before u went all over the map with ur numerous responses.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          Oh my god! I just said that exact same thing! First of all you opened this post. It’s incumbent on you to make your point clear, which again you’re refusing to do, choosing instead to parrot back words like a complete idiot.

          Second, if you’d actually provided sources when I asked for them I’d have gotten an idea where you were coming from and what you were thinking. But you didn’t construct an argument that way. Instead I worked with what you gave me, and since you were that belligerent I actually avoided probing you for much more, because it seemed like the more I’d try to continue in good faith, the more you’d use that as an opportunity to attack. Which you’re free to do again.

          RJH18 says:

          My point was clear. It’s not my responsibility to insure u understand it. Maybe if u come down to earth u might be able to see things more clearly.

          SharonP says:

          RJH’s point was very clear to me. In a nutshell it was that someone who doesn’t follow the dictates of the Talmud shouldn’t be attempting to use it to extract the authority of the Rabbanim who do follow it.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          That’s a more reasonable point that doesn’t quite match up to his rhetorical form. He seemed much more concerned with who is an idiot and who is an expert. There’s a lot of sarcastic talk about bowing before someone’s expertise, of how the Talmud universally says this or that, how all rabbanim universally say this or that… and no substantive citations or general arguments to qualify any of his spewing crap.

          Your point does have something to it though. When you say extract, I’m guessing you mean devise a thesis about rabbinic authority. But following halachah doesn’t in and of itself make you a better reader of gemara, or for that matter it might also be that you don’t learn any gemara. The concern might be that the texts that make up the halakhic system and agad’ta and everything else must be understood on their terms–not framed and reconstrued on the basis of arbitrary academic paradigms. When I read and listen to Ruth Calderon I hear her earnest desire to understand the texts she loves on *their* terms, not on the terms of what she wants them to be. Just as she doesn’t seek to impose her ideas on the texts, she doesn’t seek to subjugate people to her political ideas. That speech was an invitation to dialogue. Everything RJH wrote was the exact opposite, and even when common logic disagreed he sought to impose his view on it by getting angrier and throwing more insults.

          SharonP says:

          I have to disagree with you Dr. B. I thought his point was salient and quite clear. As far as the name calling that was something you started. All he said was that the comment the Shas MK made was “idiotic” which I tend to agree. That’s a far cry from calling you or anyone else names. Why do you insist that she doesn’t have an agenda? All those who join the Knesset of course have an agenda and hers is clearly stated in the article.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          You say it’s quite clear, but you seem to be saying something slightly different from what he’s saying. Let’s take a look at RJH’s greatest hits:

          “I don’t care if she has a PhD from Harvard. Why do u think this gives her any more understanding of Torah than a goldfish.” Simply to state that she *might* have the brains of a goldfish with a Harvard degree while the rabbanim are masters isn’t enough. If it’s true, you can *show* it to be true. Failing that all you’ve done is insult the person, and that can be bullying.

          “the Shas MK who made the idiotic comment on the gematria his words belie his ignorance. Gematrias are never used to prove a point in Talmud.” There’s another insult. Poor guy. What’d he do to get dragged into this? This is when I accused him of calling people idiots.

          “I bow before her and your intellectual superiority.” No argument here. Just the rabbanim are smarter than you. I happen to think so, but how did that suddenly change from being about the rabbanim to being about him? And that sarcastic language of subjugation? Totally something he introduced. The tone is insulting more than the actual words, but I’m including it because it tells us something about how he thinks.

          “Being that you obviously do not accept rabbinic authority” How dare he? Imagine if someone said that about you for disagreeing with them? If they said you weren’t yor’ah shamayim or were a koferet?

          After that he gets as slippery as he can. But since I’m not playing the game with him, I’ll grant a little more than I would speaking to someone of his particular charm. Here is the closest we have gotten to RHB’s point, and it’s concise and says what it means, so I at least applaud that:

          “State power should never have a say over G-d power. THe Talmud which she quotes is very clear on this.”

          We could have been talking about this the ENTIRE TIME. Instead he chose to bully his way out of a tight spot.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          As graceless an exit as I’ve ever seen. Kudos, sir. On your planet, which you seem to think is Earth, the responsibility for making your point clear is the other person’s, and for that reason you ask them what you meant.

          RJH18 says:

          u should try reading the post before responding. I said it was not my responsibility to insure u UNDERSTAND it.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          You can’t spell. You can’t make an argument. You can only cite one source to back you up and can’t even discuss it. You parrot back the same words being used to attack you. When challenged on your point you challenge back on whether I’ve understood. Every opportunity you’ve had to clarify you haven’t taken because you’re just afraid to pin yourself down to a concretely stated point of view. Also—and I usually don’t nitpick because mistakes happen and it’s irrelevant to issues being discussed—you apparently can’t even spell or use proper grammar. See that? That’s a list of evidence. You know what it proves? On every level I’ve tried to engage you you’ve proven yourself completely incapable. But if you say so, I’m the stupidhead.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          Just give it up.

          RJH18 says:

          I think the most telling piece of information is that u spell G-d in lowercase and ur own name in uppercase. I think that makes it quite clear where u stand. Tell me how is it that u continue to argue a point which u are unable to comprehend. Proof is that others on this thread seem to have no trouble understanding my point but u.

          Doctor Bucephalus says:

          I argue with what you give me. If you give me nothing substantive I argue with that. Also there’s no chiyuv to blot out a name if it’s not one of the shiv’ah shemot hashem, although I am aware many hold otherwise. I personally tend to use the capital G when I’m seriously discussing Hashem, and not when it’s just an exclamation. I’ve got a comment below that you might want to respond to if you want substantive debate and not finger-pointing.

          PushitYid says:

          I think many of us here understood RJ’s point. Not sure why u were unable to.

          RJH18 says:

          WHAT IS YOUR POINT????

          ChicagoTeamster says:

          RJH18, you’re not addressing the issue of state power. Go follow your Rabbi in peace. Don’t ask for your Rabbi to have state power over people who differ with you.

          State power should never have a say over G-d power. THe Talmud which she quotes is very clear on this.

    Not the Authentic Talmud and Torah but a revisionist one. More distortions we don’t need.

    francis321 says:

    Harper. I see what you mean… Jesus`s st0rry is something… last
    wednesday I bought a great Lotus Carlton after having made $6534 this
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This is another attempt to create an alternative Jewish religion no different than reform,conservative egalitarian, enlightenment,socialism,communism,zionisim. They all have failed miserably because they are unauthentic and define morality in their own terms not G-d’s. They are all pervert the truth and as a result can never succeed. Only a return to true, authentic Torah Judaism based on the principles that have allowed us to survive for thousands of years can change our plight.

    cipher says:

    Only a return to true, authentic Torah Judaism based on the principles
    that have allowed us to survive for thousands of years can change our

    What plight would that be – a state of not having every aspects of our lives dictated by your heilige rebbaim?

    Every comment you’ve made here is ludicrous. You’re operating at the developmental level of a child.

      RJH18 says:

      Should our lives be dictated Ruth C. or by you? Is it ludicrous because u say so?

        cipher says:

        They’re ludicrous because you don’t know what you’re talking about, and you don’t know that you don’t know.

          RJH18 says:

          But you do know what you’re talking about? I am humbled before you o great master.

George says:


Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom says:

How many Jewish readers who reside in America would feel comfortable about a congresswoman who is teaching Christian texts from the Congress floor? Jews, who are 2% of the population, would be outraged! So how should Arabs, who are more than 20% feel? When will you all realize that a democracy cannot embrace the majority religion, but must leave such matters to the individual? It’s a shame the author has not followed some of the pushback that Calderon’s inaugural speech has aroused — already two important op-ed pieces, all because we’re kvelling about secularists reading the Talmud…As a rabbi who loves studying Jewish texts, I salute her educational work, but I hope she’ll remember that the Knesset belongs to the Israeli electorate, not only to Jewish voters!

    Israel is an officially Jewish country. The USA is not an officially Christian country. Besides no one is stopping Arab MKs from quoting the Koran or new testament.

      Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom says:

      Dear x (I can’t exactly address you as Tiz…),

      I belong to the growing number of Israeli Jews who prefer to think of our country not as a Jewish country but rather as the country of its residents. I believe that outlook increases possibilities of equality, which is best way to increase the likelihood of a peaceful co-existence. Sadly, when it entrenches discrimination, it feels very un-Jewish, no matter what language is spoken and which texts are quoted

        Reptilian2012 says:

        Smuggling suicide bombers into Israel is also a tad offensive, wouldn’t you say so rebbe?

    In the US, the state doesn’t make you prove your background in order to get married or use religious concepts as the basis for divorce or a number of “civil” transactions.

Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom says:

For Hebrew readers, here are two dissenting op-ed pieces written by enlighted, religiously educated women:

I apologize that I can’t devote the time to translate them, but the gist of the dissent is that spreading Yiddishkeit is nice, but doesn’t necessarily enhance democracy; will Calderon’s party, beyond presenting pretty faces have the depth we in Israel need?

    ChicagoTeamster says:

    Larry’s response is worth reading. MK Calderon could have acknowledged non-Jewish citizens. It would have been the right thing to do.

Robert Gross says:

Gustav Mahler noted, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the
preservation of fire.” We must blow away the dead coating of ash that covers
the still glowing coals of our best stories to rekindle the spiritual fire we
need to warm our souls. Prof. Alan Dershowitz makes the case in his The Genesis of Justice that the stories in that text trace the evolving conception of justice from the pagan arbitrary and incomprehensible actions of gods to a view of justice that is conditioned by human behavior within the social contract.

In his brilliant analysis of Judaism, Douglas Rushkoff formulates the Jewish Trinity:

1. Iconoclasm-from the folk tale of the child Avram smashing the idols in his fathers workshop to the tradition of always questioning everything, we learn not to enshrine anything as Absolute Truth.

2. Abstract Monotheism-from the formulation of Spinoza’s Negative Theology, we learn that we know or can know nothing of the exact nature or wishes of the Source of Life other than it seems to be unitary. Any specifics are speculation.

3. Social Justice is the strongest theme regarding the best course for a person’s life.

I am far from a Talmud scholar, but I have been told of the continuing contest between the schools of thought of Hillel and Shemai. The latter taught the rigid enforcement of the letter of the law, while the former taught what has been translated as arguments for the sake of heaven. To listen attentively and with respect to the opinion of one’s opposite and then to try, with a humble and open heart, to determine what is best for people to live “the good life” is the better strategy. It is, I believe, why Hillel is regarded today as perhaps the greatest of the Talmudists, and Shamai is largely forgotten.

People forget that there is no dogma in Judaism, only the text and the interpretation of the text, and that Moses taught that it is up to each generation to seek out the meaning for themselves. Certainly the rebs are a valuable resource, but the word means teacher, not final arbiter of G-d’s will. A rabbi is required to dissolve a marriage and to certify another rabbi. Everything else is subject to debate

Biological evolution is slooow. We’re physically similar to people from 100 thousand years ago, but our stories allow us to pass on information to the next generation, to test out alternative scenarios, to guess or intuit things based on understandings other than our own direct experiences. Some people think it is our stories that have allowed us to make the developmental leaps of the last few millennia. Today we have caveman brains armed with nuclear weapons. We must evolve or die. As the longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer put it, “In times of profound change, the future belongs to the learner, and the learned will find themselves beautifully prepared to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

ChicagoTeamster says:

The (Shas MK) moderator’s interjection really got to me. Gematria sticks in my throat. I thought Calderon’s bit of Talmud study was worthwhile, but I’ve always felt that Gematria was a waste of time.

Addison. I agree that Keith`s rep0rt is cool… on monday I got a gorgeous Toyota after having made $4537 thiss month and-in excess of, 10 grand this past-munth. with-out any question its the easiest-work I’ve ever done. I actually started 7-months ago and pretty much straight away started to bring home minimum $73, per hour. I use this web-site,, — Buzz80.ℂOℳ

Why does Halevi have to compare Ruth Calderon’s speech and life’s work with Women of the Wall’s 24 years of unbroken prayer at the Kotel? Both ways and many more besides, are legitimate and effective ways of defeating the Orthodox monopoly on Judaism in Israel.

herbcaen says:

I support women learning Talmud. However, the more one studies the traditions, the more respectful of the traditions one becomes. Thus, I dont expect her using the Kotel as a platform for self aggrandisement


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In New Knesset, a True Maverick

Why Ruth Calderon, a Talmud scholar and rookie politician, has a shot at breaking the Orthodox monopoly on Judaism