Prominent Religious Zionism Rabbi Shlomo Aviner's recent ruling, that women in Israel should not run for parliament, has sparked a religious dispute about the borders of conservatism.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of the Petah Tikva hesder yeshiva, rejected the ruling and said women should be encouraged to take part in politics and other public activities.
According to Cherlow, the stance that women should be forbidden to do so is immodest in itself.
"Rabbi Aviner is simply convincing the public that a woman is a threat, and that any woman taking the stage is a sexual object," Rabbi Cherlow told Ynet. "Instead of being gentle toward them, he is simply perpetuating this perception."
Cherlow, who is considered one of the Religious Zionism movement's moderate rabbis, confirmed that Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the movement's founders, had shared Aviner's opinion, but argued that "we cannot completely ignore everything that happened in the past 100 years."
Rabbi Cherlow's basic stand is that the public activity of women and the "feminine voice" that they bring along to the public arena are essential, and that the rabbinical world, which understands the difference between them and men, should recognize that more than others.
"Many women are active there modestly, and we cannot say that dealing with public needs is immodest. All of us – men and women – must act modestly," he said.
In an interview with Army Radio, Rabbi Cherlow said he did not understand how Aviner could define public activity as "immodest."
"According to this principle, a rabbi delivering a lesson to women is immodest, as is a rabbi who does modest things with women. Where does that take us from a religious point of view?"
'Prominent women's leadership needed'
The Beit Hillel organization renounced the rabbi's remarks as well. Its CEO, Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, said the organization viewed women as an integral and important part of society, based on the ruling of Rabbi Uziel, who was Israel's first chief rabbi.
"We encourage the integration of women in public roles, in politics, in the community and in all fields of the industry, academia and Torah studies," he said. "In the current social structure, there is a stronger need for prominent women's leadership."
Attorney Yizhar Hess, the executive director and CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel, said in response: "We must not complain about Rabbi Aviner. All he did was voice the state of mind that has taken over large parts of Religious Zionism."
Shahar Ilan, vice president of the Hiddush organization, said that "if Rabbi Aviner feels that women's presence in the Knesset affects modesty, he is welcome to stay away from there.
"It's difficult not to wonder why rabbis like Aviner are so engaged in modesty issues, and whether it wouldn't be better for them and for the public to dedicate less of their time to modesty in particular and to women in general."