Opinions Dr. Ruth Calderon's Maiden Knesset Speech

Human Relations
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Dr. Ruth Calderon's Maiden Knesset Speech


I include a translation of Calderon's inspiring speech. Thanks for Petal Mashraki for the translation. The subtitles are an independent translation by makomtv.


Lead on!





Dr. Ruth Calderon MP:

Mr. Chairman, honorable members of parliament, the book I hold in my hands changed my life, and in many ways is the reason I'm here today and have the honor to address the Knesset as one of the new members of parliament. The book I'm holding belonged to David Giladi, author, journalist, a man of culture and editor, the grandfather of the head of our movement who was also mentioned here yesterday. I was extremely honored to receive this book from his daughter, the author Shulamit Lapid.

I didn't inherit the Talmud from my grandfather, I was born and grew up in one of the oldest neighbourhood in Tel-Aviv, daughter to my father Moshe Calderon, who was born in Bulgaria and immigrated to Israel as a young man after the difficult war years. He began studying agriculture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was immediately conscripted during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (War of Independence) to defend Gush Etzion. Later my father specialised in Entomology, the study of insects, and was an international expert on grain storage. My mother, who was born in Germany, had the combined misfortunate, for a young girl at that time, to be Jewish, left handed and a red-head she immigrated to Israel as a young girl and met my father thanks to the British siege of Jerusalem. When the siege came to an end they went to meet the respective families as a couple, and the Bulgarian neighbours had little they could say other than: "A nice girl Moshiko but aren't there any Jewish girls left, you had to go and find an Ashkenazia?"

By telling you this I'm trying to say that I grew up in a very Jewish home, a very Zionist home, secular, traditional and normal, that combined both Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Betar and Shomer HaTzair, in the accepted Israeli surroundings, the main-stream of the 60s and 70s, and was educated like all of my generation in the government education system, in the spirit of the "Tanach to the Palmach". And I encounter neither the Mishnah and the Talmud, nor the Kabalah and the Hasidim. By the time I was a teenager I felt something was missing, something about the new, liberal Israeli identity, of "Elik, who was born from the sea" from Naomi Shemer's poem, was all well and good but something was missing. It lacked depth, for me more words were needed in the vocabulary, it lacked a past, epics, heroes, places, drama, stories. The "New Hebrew", educated by the founders of the nation, fulfilled their dreams, and he became a fighter, brave, practical and suntanned. But for me, he (me) had a void, I didn't know how to fill this void, but when I uncounted the Talmud for the first time, and fell in love with it, its language, its humor, its profound wisdom, its methods of debate, its practicality, its humanity, its maturity, which comes through with every line, I felt that I had found peace of mind and what I was missing.

Since then I have studied, at Beita Midrash and at university, academic studies, and I have earned a Doctorate in Talmud, from the Hebrew University, in Talmudic Literature and Torah Studies for my own personal enrichment and for years I've been lucky enough to study the daf shvui (daily page of Talmud) and studies with Chavruta (study with others) which have helped me become who I am.

Motivated by my own personal needs, together with others, I established Alma - Home for Hebrew Culture in Tel-Aviv, and years earlier, Elul, the country's first beit Midrash for both men and women, secular and religious Jews. In the mean time, over the past several decades a new movement for renewed Judaism has flourishing, but tens and hundreds of thousands of Israeli students are still studying in institutions which don't outline for them how to be a Jew or the way in which they can make the Torah their Torah for life.

I am convinced that the study of the major books in the Hebrew and Jewish culture are essential to the creation of a new Hebrew culture in Israel. It's impossible to march into the future without knowing where we came from, who we are, or without knowing intimately, down to the smallest detail, of the glory, the rage and even the ridiculous. The Torah is not the property of one movement or another, it is a gift which we all received, and we have all been given the opportunity to refer to it when faced with the reality of our lives. Nobody ever took the Talmud or the Rabbinical writings from us, with our own hands we gave it away at a time when it seemed that there was a more urgent and important task at hand – to build a nation, establish an army, agriculture, industry and more. Now the time has come to return and claim what is ours, to enjoy the cultural treasure that waits for us, for our eyes, for our discussion and for our creation.

Instead of telling you about this wonderful book, I'd like to read a story to you from the Talmud, one short tale about Rabbi Rechumei from Ketubot 62b, and in this way also comment on this moment and the tasks I'll set for myself in the Knesset.

If anyone wants, I've brought copies of the text to hand out, but only if you would like.

I'll read it once in Aramaic for the melody and then in Hebrew for the reading. (Reading in Aramaic) And now in Hebrew: Rabbi Rechumei was a Rabbi, but firstly a man, a whole lot of man, Rechumei in Aramaic is "Love" from the word rechem (womb) a person who knows how to nurture, to completely accept, just as a woman's womb knows how to completely hold a baby. It’s a very good choice of word for love in Aramaic, as we know, the Greeks took the word womb and derived from it the word hysteria but the choice in Aramaic to take the word womb and derive from it the word "love" is a feminist choice made by the Sages. "He could be found constantly in the company of Rava, the head of the Mechozo Yeshiva…"

Chairman: Rechem also means Ramach.

Ruth Calderon: Thank you, I'm grateful for participation in Torah discussion. He could be found, that is to say, he studied, and was accepted to study at one of the four largest yishivot, the "Ivy League" of Babylon: Nehardea, Mechoza, Pumbedita and Sura. He studied at Mechoza, he studied with the head of Mechoza Yeshiva, who was so well known that he was called "Rava". With an "aleph" at the end of the word, Rava, in Aramaic denotes the definitive article, in other words The Rabbi. "And it was his habit to…" I'll just tell you that Rabbanim don't like it when people do things out of habit, usually when someone does something as a habit in the Talmud, a few lines later someone dies.

It was his habit to come to his house, "His house" in Aramaic means "his wife" and "his home and his wife" in other words a man who doesn't have a wife is homeless. A woman who doesn't have a husband is not, but a man without a wife, is homeless.

It was his habit to come home every Erev Yom Kippur. Notice that when the Gamarah says that he was in the habit of coming to his home every Erev Yom Kippur, there's an ironic subtext. What does it mean every - once a year? It's not such a lot. And we also, you're probably thinking, what a date to choose to come to his wife, on Erev Yom Kippur, which isn't exactly a day to be intimate, but rather a day of prayer and usually not even at home.

"One day, one time, one year, he was absorbed in the scriptures, the studies in the Beit Midrash entranced him to such an extent that he forgot, he didn't leave on time, and he couldn't pull himself away from the studies and he didn't go home. His wife expected him: "Now he's coming. Now he's coming."

In Aramaic you can hear her anxious breathing in the words "Hashta atei, Hashta atei" that expectation that every SMS, every phone call, each footstep outside and every knock on the door… you're sure it's him. Now he's coming. Now he's coming, but he doesn't come.

At some point she realizes that this year he won't be coming. Perhaps the Shofar has already signaled the start of Yom Kippur, and after that no one will arrive due to the sanctity of the holy day. It plays on her mind. This woman who waited all year, who has waited for many years, all year, for this one day, and she can't stand it anymore and her resolve weakens, she's disappointed, she's sad and she loses control. "She sheds a tear", she lets one tear drop fall. This is the active verb of the word not the passive. She lets one tear drop fall from her eye onto her cheek, after many years of not crying.

Now we need to imagine a split-screen, on one side a close-up on a woman, on the face of the woman one tear drop runs down her cheek, and on the other side, sitting on the roof of Mechoza, sits Rabbi Rechumei, all dressed in white, and feeling holy. You know after a day, of several hours with no food, we feel incredibly uplifted. And he's studying Torah, surrounded by the stars and he feels incredibly close to God.

"He sits on the roof and as the tear drops from the woman's eye, the roof gives way underneath him and he falls to the ground and to his death." In Aramaic "and dies."

What can I learn from Rabbi Rechumei and his wife about this place and my work here? Firstly I learn that if someone forgets that he's sitting on someone else's shoulders he will surely fall. I concur with what you said earlier MP Bennett. I can learn that being righteous is not putting the study of Torah before the people's feelings. I learn that in a dispute there are often two sides that are right. And until I understand that not only my side but also the opposing side – both Rabbi Rechumei and his wife – feel that they are doing the right thing, and the responsible thing for the home. We too often feel like the woman that waits, serves in the army and does her work while others just sit on the roof studying Torah. And sometimes the others feel that they're taking everything upon themselves, having the legacy, the culture and Torah all on their shoulders and we just go to the beach and have fun. Both myself and the other side feel that they are bearing all the responsible for the home on their shoulders alone. Not until we truly understand this will we see the present problem nor will we be able to find a solution. I wish us all years of thoughtful productivity and disputes based on mutual respect and understanding. I aspire to bring about a situation where Torah study is the legacy of all of Israel, where Torah reaches a broad spectrum and who every wants to study it can. Where the young Israelis will take part in the responsibility both in Torah study and in military and civil service, and together we will build our house and we will remain strong. I aspire to a day when the nation's resources are distributed fairly and equally to each student of the Sages, according to the level of their studies and not according to the public image. When the Beite Midrash, the organizations and yishivot, religious, secular and pluralistic, will get equal and fair support as the Orthodox and Haridi Beite Midrash, and through intellectual envy, and healthy competition, the Torah will flourish and be glorified.

I'd like to mention my teacher Rabbi David Hartman, who passed away this week, who opened the doors of his Beit Midrash for me, and built a courageous and inclusive language of Judaism. May he rest in peace.

I'd like to conclude with a prayer written by my colleague Chaim Hames, a prayer for the commencement of the Knesset: May it be Your will, Lord our God, God of our fathers and mothers, that I leave this house as I entered it at peace with myself and with all others. May my actions benefit all the citizens of the State of Israel. May I work to improve the society that elected me to this chamber, and may I cause peace to dwell between us and our neighbors. May I always remember that I am just a representative of the people and may I take care to keep my integrity and innocent heart intact. May I, and we, succeed in all our endeavors. I'd like to add a small prayer for my party, Yesh Atid, may we keep the unique culture of respect and cooperation, may we stay united, may we stay in the plenum and may we succeed in fulfilling our dream to change things for the better. Thank you very much.

Chairman: Amen, thank you Ruth Calderon MP. I wish you luck in all that you do here in the Knesset, I wish you success. Amen