Ultra-Orthodox establishment that holds a monopoly on all matters religion and state in Israel adamantly opposes allowing women to serve as rabbis, arguing that it is a violation of Jewish law.
The Chief Rabbinate last week threatened to halt the ordaining process for all new rabbis if the High Court of Justice forced it to train women as rabbis.
The statement followed a petition filed by women scholars who seek to be ordained as rabbis. In response to the petition, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said that the state was in favor of the move, but noted that “the current circumstances by which the Chief Rabbinate is handling the [ordaining] process, place legal hurdles” in the move’s way.
The state, he said, will work to establish an alternative set of rabbinical exams that will be open to women.
The Rabbinate, however, rejected the idea outright, saying there is no place for female rabbis in Judaism.
The Chief Rabbinate is an ultra-Orthodox entity recognized by law as the supreme rabbinic authority for Judaism in Israel. While the local Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism have experienced impressive growth in their numbers over the past decade, they are not recognized by the ultra-Orthodox establishment.
Orthodox Jews are adamantly opposed to allowing women to serve as rabbis, arguing that it is a violation of Jewish law, or Halacha. Worldwide, however, the progressive streams of Judaism have been ordaining women since the mid-1970s and 1980s, respectively.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who presides over the Chief Rabbinate, has reportedly instructed the relevant professional bodies within the establishment to mount every possible objection to the move.
“Jewish law and tradition that the Rabbinate is tasked with preserving do not allow women to serve as rabbis,” the Chief Rabbinate said in a statement.
It further warned that “if there is a legal directive that would require us to ordain women as rabbis in violation of the Halacha, the rabbinical ordination system as a whole will cease its operations until the proper legislation regulating this issue is in place.”
The petition, filed by the ITIM Jewish Advocacy Center, the Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women’s Status at Bar Ilan University, and the Kolech Center for Women’s Leadership, said that by excluding women from the rabbinical training process, the Chief Rabbinate was promoting discriminatory practices.
“This reality creates a professional barrier within various religious positions as well as in the public sector, where being ordained as a rabbi meets various employment criteria,” the petition said.
The High Court of Justice is set to hear the petition later this month. Ahead of the hearing, the State Attorney’s Office has set up meetings with officials in the Rabbinate, the Education, Religious Services, and Higher and Secondary Education ministries, as well as the Civil Service Commission, in an effort to formulate a rabbinical training path catering to women.
ITIM Founder Rabbi Shaul Farber told Israel Hayom, “Reality speaks for itself. More and more scholarly women are taking on halachic leadership roles – this is a great boon to the Torah world, which is becoming richer for the faithful public.
“We hope that the Rabbinate will take on the mantle of promoting the issue. We will examine the merits of any solution proposed as part of the petition,” he said.