Women take on the man­tle of lead­er­ship • By SHOSHANNA KEATS-JASKOLL

Women are in­creas­ingly be­ing heard and tak­ing on fresh roles in ob­ser­vant Ju­daism, par­tic­u­larly in Is­rael – nat­u­rally bring­ing Or­tho­doxy to­ward a re­nais­sance

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • SHOSHANNA KEATS-JASKOLL

‘Women’s voices have been gen­er­ally miss­ing from the great Jewish dis­cus­sion that takes part within our com­mu­ni­ties. For mil­len­nia, the cor­pus of both Jewish law and thought has in­cluded the per­spec­tives and out­looks of men alone. To­day, we are wit­ness­ing an im­por­tant re­nais­sance, al­low­ing us to ben­e­fit from the dis­tinc­tive­ness and sin­gu­lar­ity that women bring to the ta­ble.

“I be­lieve that their voices al­low us to view many of the press­ing is­sues fac­ing Ju­daism to­day from a fresh per­spec­tive. I be­lieve that any­one who took part in this sig­nif­i­cant Shab­bat, and went to hear one of the women who spoke through­out our var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties, was in­deed im­pressed by the need for fe­male To­rah eru­di­tion.”

So said Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig, who teaches at Midreshet Lin­den­baum, a well-re­garded women’s ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion in Jerusalem, and is the rabbi of the Net­zach Me­nashe com­mu­nity in Beit Shemesh. His con­gre­ga­tion hosted Dr. Pen­ina Neuwirth for Shab­bat Dor­shot Tov, which in April saw 80 women To­rah schol­ars take to podi­ums in Or­tho­dox syn­a­gogues across Is­rael. Dor­shot Tov, and the ex­tent to which it has grown and is sup­ported by so many Or­tho­dox rab­bis and com­mu­ni­ties, is a tes­ta­ment to the in­creas­ing ac­cep­tance of women’s To­rah lead­er­ship in Or­tho­doxy.

This com­mu­nal ac­cep­tance is a re­sult of a num­ber of fac­tors unique to Is­rael, which to­gether cre­ate an at­mos­phere of op­por­tu­nity for women’s lead­er­ship. Many are the in­di­vid­u­als, in­sti­tu­tions and or­ga­ni­za­tions that are work­ing to make women’s To­rah and lead­er­ship a nor­ma­tive part of Ju­daism and Is­raeli so­ci­ety. This piece is the first in a se­ries that will look at the phe­nom­e­non of women’s lead­er­ship, meet the women at the heart of this shift and ex­plore why this move­ment is good for the Jews.

WHILE THERE is no short­age of fe­male teach­ers or lec­tur­ers – and there cer­tainly are and have long been fe­male schol­ars – the op­por­tu­nity to shape Jewish law and pol­icy has been largely closed to them. Men stud­ied the law, and men made the law.

How­ever, the past three decades have seen a ma­jor shift in women’s ac­cess to To­rah study, with nu­mer­ous in­sti­tu­tions pro­vid­ing women with deep ed­u­ca­tion in Jewish law. More­over, in Is­rael, in­no­va­tive trail­blaz­ers are con­struct­ing cre­ative po­si­tions in which women can ap­ply this knowl­edge.

What has led to this shift? Some claim that it is born from the need for women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions, for the ben­e­fit of both the com­mu­nity and women them­selves.

Yael Rock­man – ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Kolech, a prom­i­nent Is­raeli Or­tho­dox fem­i­nist or­ga­ni­za­tion, and ini­tia­tor of Dor­shot Tov – ex­plains.

“In gen­eral so­ci­ety, women are an­a­lysts and judges. For re­li­gious peo­ple, Ju­daism is a huge part of our lives. If we pre­vent women from fully par­tic­i­pat­ing in Ju­daism, we cre­ate a re­al­ity where a woman can fully ex­press her­self and serve her com­mu­nity in her sec­u­lar life, but is sti­fled Jewishly. This kind of dis­so­nance is un­healthy and won’t last. For a thriv­ing Jewish com­mu­nity, we must re­solve this ten­sion. There is room for women lead­ers. We need to give them ways to par­tic­i­pate in the com­mu­nity. Oth­er­wise, we will lose the next gen­er­a­tion.”

In­deed, in­sti­tu­tions such as Matan, Nish­mat, Beit Midrash Harel and Midreshet Lin­den­baum, all in Jerusalem, and Midreshet Ein Hanatziv in Ma’aleh Gil­boa – to name a few – boast pro­grams that teach women Jewish law at high lev­els and pro­vide cer­ti­fi­ca­tion af­ter rig­or­ous test­ing. Women’s midrashot, the women’s ed­u­ca­tional coun­ter­part to the men’s yeshiva, are packed with hun­dreds of young women study­ing Jewish texts, weav­ing them­selves into the le­gacy of Jewish dis­course.

Those fa­mil­iar with the de­bate sur­round­ing women’s schol­ar­ship and lead­er­ship in the Di­as­pora (specif­i­cally on the ques­tion of Or­tho­dox women rab­bis) may be sur­prised by the flour­ish­ing of women’s op­por­tu­ni­ties in Is­rael. It is im­por­tant to note that there is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in the ap­proach to and ac­cep­tance of women’s learn­ing and lead­er­ship in Or­tho­doxy in Is­rael as com­pared to the United

(Marc Is­rael Sellem)

WOMEN LEARN in the beit midrash at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Lin­den­baum.

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