Rabbanit Dr. Michal Tikochinsky. 'We are blessed to be part of this'
Beit Hillel CEO Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth. 'Continuing the revolution of women in the world of Torah'
TheBeit Hillel rabbinical association has drafted a halachic ruling allowing women to issue their own rulings in Jewish Law, an authority which has so far only been granted to men.
"Thank God, there are women who diligently study the six books of the Mishna and religious rulings and accept tradition from scholars," the rabbis explained in a statement. "Issuing a halachic ruling would be a simple matter for them."
In recent years, thanks to a feminist revolution in Jewish Orthodoxy, a field of "halachic advisors" has developed in women's houses of study. These advisors mostly used the knowledge they purchased in order to advise women on rules of family purity and reduce rabbis' involvement in these issues, but were not permitted to rule on disputed matters.
Women in Judaism
Rabbi Levi Brackman
The concern among many Orthodox Jews regarding women's role has less to do with adherence to Jewish law, and more to do with the fear of changes impacting the religious community's nature.
The Beit Hillel halachic ruling recognizes them as religious authorities for all intents and purposes.
Programs training women to teach Halacha already exist in Modern Orthodoxy institutions, mainly in the United States but also in Israel. The most liberal institution, Yeshivat Maharat in New York, ordains women as spiritual leaders and halachic authorities.
Beit Hillel CEO Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth stresses, however, that there has yet to be a written response permitting people to act according to these women's rulings.
"A precedent which has not been fixed in a written halachic ruling does not necessarily change history," Rabbi Neuwirth explained to Ynet. "On the other hand, any ruling written throughout the generations becomes a precedent and a building block for halachic rulings which will be written on the same issue later on, and this is this ruling's major innovation.
"This is the first time that this issue is fully presented in a complete, detailed and reasoned halachic ruling. We are definitely making history here and continuing the revolution of women in the world of Torah."
Breaking down boundaries
The new ruling stretches over several pages and will be published in Beit Hillel's bulletin which will be distributed next week. It is based on the opinions of leading halachic authorities in Jewish history who addressed the issues.
After combining all these opinions and holding a thorough discussion, the organization's rabbis reached the conclusion that "whoever studied and is proficient in the Halacha should be able to deliver it, including wise women who were trained to teach Halacha, even in cases in which the Halacha instruction includes using discretion and ruling on questionable issues."
The rabbis see rulings in the field of "family purity" as particularly important, as "the wise women's involvement may break down boundaries among women who are afraid to ask and are often left with doubts (which causes them to be overly strict or commit halachic violations).
According to the rabbis, "This option will increase the observance of Jewish Law and the circle of people loyal to the Halacha also among audiences which sometimes stand aside due to the absence of female instruction."
Rabbanit Dr. Michal Tikochinsky, director of the women's house of study at the Beit Morasha Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and Leadership and a Beit Hillel board member, says that "the instruction of Halacha by wise women is already an established fact.
"Women receive many appeals from a public which is hungry for their halachic rulings. This public does not only include women, and the questions they are asked do not only address matters related to women.
"Women instruct on simple questions and complicated questions, according to their training and strength. I can testify that this is done out of fear of God, a sense of mission and sharing the burden.
"This is a major innovation of the past generation and we are blessed to be part of it. A clear ruling on this matter is of course an important achievement and landmark."
Rabbi Dr. Amit Kula, the rabbi of Kibbutz Alumim in the Negev and head of Beit Hillel's Beit Midrash for Halacha, says that "the legitimacy of a ruling issued by a wise woman is crystal clear. From the first halachic rulers through the last to Israel's chief rabbis, everyone agrees that the field of Halacha instruction is open to women with a profession.
"I personally hope that we will get to see women participating not only in Torah studies, but also in the responsibility to teach the Halacha and pass it on from generation to generation. There is an innovation in the feminine voice in many areas, as well as in the fields of education and instruction.
"But in order for this dream to be fulfilled, there is a need for a lot of work and studies, ensuring the continuation of the Halacha tradition and finding criteria for ordaining these wise women. It may take a long time, but it will happen."