Doctor of Humane Letters
A renowned scholar and teacher of Jewish religious texts, Ruth Calderon believes her personal mission is to create a “Jewish renewal” by encouraging and teaching Jews — in Israel and in the Diaspora — to turn to Jewish texts like the Talmud and Torah, interpret them with their own understanding, and see them as rich sources of guidance on modern moral and social issues.
Calderon, who received her PhD in Talmud from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is the founder of Elul, the first pluralistic beit midrash in Israel, at which secular and religious Jewish men and women study, learn and interpret Jewish texts side by side. She also founded Alma, Home for Hebrew Culture, a pluralistic cultural and intellectual center that brings secular and religious Jews together to combine the wisdom of the Jewish texts with modern thinking. These organizations broke down barriers between the sacred and secular, the observant and nonreligious, and male and female, and led to a surge of similar centers and pluralistic thinking across Israel.
In 2013, Calderon was elected to the Knesset, serving for two years, including as deputy speaker. She caused a sensation with her maiden speech before the Knesset when she read a passage from the Talmud she brought to the podium. She called for a new Hebrew culture for Israel, in which both secular and religious Jews interpret and seek guidance from the sacred texts. The speech, which created a sensation in the Israeli and worldwide Jewish communities, was viewed more than 200,000 times on YouTube. For many, it was the point at which the Talmud and other religious texts were freed from being interpreted only by religious leaders. Calderon underscored this in her speech, saying, “The time has come to reappropriate what is ours, to delight in the cultural riches that wait for us, for our eyes, our imaginations, our creativity.”