Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, chief rabbi of the Elon Moreh settlement in Samaria, has prohibited female residents from running for the office of community secretary.
The elections for the position are scheduled for Wednesday, but so far not a single woman of the 750 eligible adult residents of the settlement has announced candidacy.
One woman, who remains anonymous, sent a letter to Rabbi Levanon asking whether she could run for the position. "I am a young woman and I think I have the desire and energy to do things. I also believe there is a benefit to making a woman secretary, because it's not right for men to be the only ones deciding how to run the community," she wrote to the rabbi, asking his opinion.
But in his weekly column in the settlement's newspaper Levanon wrote that the position of secretary was not fit for a woman, according to the teachings of the Rav Kook. He said women could participate in various councils, but not as secretaries.
"The first problem is giving women authority, and being a secretary means having authority," he wrote. "The second problem is mixing men and women. Secretary meetings are held at night and sometimes end very late. It is not proper to be in mixed company in such situations."
The rabbi added that women who desired to affect public opinion should do so through their husbands. "Within the family certain debates are held and when opinions are united the husband presents the family's opinion," he wrote.
"This is the proper way to prevent a situation in which the woman votes one way and her husband votes another."
But many residents of Elon Moreh and its surroundings objected to the rabbi's decision. Daniela Weiss, former council head of the settlement of Kedumim, said women had once been prophets and held distinguished roles in Jewish society.
"It is in times of trial that women have proven themselves capable of standing up and getting through," she said.
Nurit Tsur, who heads the Israel Women's Lobby, said the rabbi's decision was anti-democratic and medieval. "Its place is in a halachic state and not a democratic one," she said.
"When things like this are taken out of the sphere of mere talk and made into a clear order for the Jewish female public in Israel, I expect leaders of the religious public to decry them and clarify that women's place in local and national political discussion is necessary and vital," Tsur said.